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Long-term structural and functional changes driven by climate variability and fishery regimes in a sandy beach ecosystem

Diego Lercari, Omar Defeo, Leonardo Ortega, Luis Orlando, Ignacio Gianelli and Eleonora Celentano

Ecological Modelling, 2018, vol. 368, issue C, 41-51

Abstract: Structural and functional changes in a sandy beach ecosystem in the southwestern Atlantic (Barra del Chuy, Uruguay) were assessed by contrasting four Ecopath trophic models and performing temporal dynamic simulations using Ecosim. Each model (1982, 1989, 1996 and 2012) represents a historical period of a clam fishery in which regulatory structure, management tools and resource status varied substantially. The results showed that this land-ocean interface experienced significant changes reflected at the population and ecosystem levels, owing to a combined effect of fishing and climate variability. Most system biomass (excluding phytoplankton and detritus) consisted of benthic invertebrates. Phytoplankton increased significantly over time, whereas the biomass of benthic macrofaunal components varied among the periods due to bottom-up processes, mass mortalities of the harvested clams and fishing intensity. Major fishing impacts on the targeted clam and mass mortalities occurred concurrently with low phytoplankton biomass, and clam recovery occurred in the absence of harvesting and increasing primary production. Ecosystem-level attributes (e.g., Total System Throughput, Ascendency) showed considerable temporal fluctuations, which were primarily related to changes in system productivity associated with a climatic shift from a cold phase to a warm phase and increasing onshore winds. An analysis of robustness and order showed an ecosystem state lacking the flexibility to adapt to new perturbations. Dynamic simulations showed the prominent bottom-up role of environmental variability on ecosystem function and structure. Temporal dynamics is conducted by changes in primary production forced mainly by temperature patterns. The concurrent role of climate variations and fishing explained the long-term dynamics of this ecosystem, suggesting that sandy beaches are fragile social-ecological systems whose services are increasingly threatened by long-lasting stressors.

Keywords: Sandy beach; Trophic modeling; Ecosystem approach to fisheries; Mesodesma mactroides; Ecopath with Ecosim; Climatic variability (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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