Effects of physical disturbance on infaunal and epifaunal assemblages in subtropical, intertidal seagrass beds

Greg A. Skilleter, Bronwyn Cameron, Yuri Zharikov, David Boland, Daryl Peter McPhee

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23 Citations (Scopus)


We assessed the impact of large-scale commercial and recreational harvesting of polychaete worms Marphysa spp. on macrobenthic assemblages in a subtropical estuary in Queensland, Australia, by examining: (1) the spatial extent of harvesting activities and the rate of recovery of the seagrass habitat over an 18 to 20 mo period; (2) the recovery of infauna in and around commercial pits of known age; (3) the indirect effects of physical disturbance from trampling and deposition of sediments during harvesting on epibenthos in areas adjacent to commercial and recreational pits; (4) impacts of potential indirect effects through manipulative experimentation. Harvesting caused a loss of seagrass, changes to the topography and compaction of the sediments associated with the creation of walls around commercial pits, and the deposition of rubble dug from within the pit. The walls and rubble were still evident after 1.8 to 20 mo, but comprised only a small proportion of the total area on the intertidal banks. There was a shift from an intertidal area dominated by Zostera capricorni to one with a mixture of Z. capricorni, Halophila spp. and Halodule uninervis, but there was no overall decline in the biomass of seagrass in these areas. There were distinct impacts from harvesting on the abundance of benthic infauna, especially amphipods, polychaetes and gastropods, and these effects were still detectable after 4 mo of potential recovery. After 12 me, there were no detectable differences in the abundances of these infauna between dug areas and reference areas, which suggested that infauna had recovered from impacts of harvesting; however, an extensive bloom of toxic fireweed Lyngbya majsucula may have masked any remaining impacts. There were no detectable impacts of harvesting on epifauna living in the seagrass immediately around commercial or recreational pits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-78
Number of pages18
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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