Dynamic ecosystems under anthropogenic stress : how does macrotidal sandy beach fauna respond to green tides ?

Abstract : Highly dynamic systems, often considered as resilient systems, are characterised by abiotic and biotic processes under continuous and strong changes in space and time. Because of this variability, the detection of overlapping anthropogenic stress is challenging. Coastal areas harbour dynamic ecosystems in the for of open sandy beaches, which cover the vast majority of the world’s ice-free coastline. These ecosystems are currently threatened by increasing human-induced pressure, among which mass-development of opportunistic macroalgae (mainly composed of Chlorophyta, so called green tides), resulting from the eutrophication of coastal waters. The ecological impact of opportunistic macroalgal blooms (green tides, and blooms formed by other opportunistic taxa), has long been evaluated within sheltered and non-tidal ecosystems. Little is known, however, on how more dynamic ecosystems, such as open macrotidal sandy beaches, respond to such stress. This thesis assesses the effects of anthropogenic stress on the structure and the functioning of highly dynamic ecosystems using sandy beaches impacted by green tides as a study case. The thesis is based on four field studies, which analyse natural sandy sediment benthic community dynamics over several temporal (from month to multi-year) and spatial (from local to regional) scales. In this thesis, I report long-lasting responses of sandy beach benthic invertebrate communities to green tides, across thousands of kilometres and over seven years; and highlight more pronounced responses of zoobenthos living in exposed sandy beaches compared to semi-exposed sands. Within exposed sandy sediments, and across a vertical scale (from inshore to nearshore sandy habitats), I also demonstrate that the effects of the presence of algal mats on intertidal benthic invertebrate communities is more pronounced than that on subtidal benthic invertebrate assemblages, but also than on flatfish communities. Focussing on small-scale variations in the most affected faunal group (i.e. benthic invertebrates living at low shore), this thesis reveals a decrease in overall beta-diversity along a eutrophication-gradient manifested in the form of green tides, as well as the increasing importance of biological variables in explaining ecological variability of sandy beach macrobenthic assemblages along the same gradient. To illustrate the processes associated with the structural shifts observed where green tides occurred, I investigated the effects of high biomasses of opportunistic macroalgae (Ulva spp.) on the trophic structure and functioning of sandy beaches. This work reveals a progressive simplification of sandy beach food web structure and a modification of energy pathways over time, through direct and indirect effects of Ulva mats on several trophic levels. Through this thesis I demonstrate that highly dynamic systems respond differently (e.g. shift in δ13C, not in δ15N) and more subtly (e.g. no mass-mortality in benthos was found) to anthropogenic stress compared to what has been previously shown within more sheltered and non-tidal systems. Obtaining these results would not have been possible without the approach used through this work; I thus present a framework coupling field investigations with analytical approaches to describe shifts in highly variable ecosystems under human-induced stress.
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Nolwenn Quillien. Dynamic ecosystems under anthropogenic stress : how does macrotidal sandy beach fauna respond to green tides ?. Earth Sciences. Université de Bretagne occidentale - Brest, 2016. English. ⟨NNT : 2016BRES0024⟩. ⟨tel-01624503⟩

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