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Influence of land-derived stressors and environmental variability on compositional turnover and diversity of estuarine benthic communities

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Fabrice StephensonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© The authors 2021.It can be challenging to differentiate community changes caused by human activities from the influence of natural background variability. Using gradient forest analysis, we explored the relative importance of environmental factors, operating across multiple spatio-temporal scales, in influencing patterns of compositional turnover in estuarine benthic macroinvertebrate communities across New Zealand. Both land-derived stressors (represented by sediment mud content and total sediment nitrogen and phosphorus content) and natural environmental variables (represented by sea surface temperature, Southern Oscillation Index, and wind-wave exposure) were important predictors of compositional turnover, reflecting a matrix of processes interacting across space and time. Generalized linear models were used to determine whether measures of benthic macroinvertebrate diversity, which are commonly used as indicators of ecological health on a local scale, changed in a way that was consistent with the compositional turnover along the environmental gradient. As expected, compositional turnover along landderived stressor gradients was negatively associated with diversity indices, suggesting a decline in ecological health as land-derived stressors increase. This study moves towards an ecosystem-based management approach that focusses on cumulative effects rather than single stressors by considering how multiple land-derived stressors influence indicators of estuarine health, against a background of natural variability across several spatio-temporal scales.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Clark DE, Stephenson F, Hewitt JE, Ellis JI, Zaiko A, Berthelsen A, Bulmer RH, Pilditch CA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Marine Ecology Progress Series

Year: 2021

Volume: 666

Pages: 1-18

Online publication date: 20/05/2021

Acceptance date: 31/03/2021

Date deposited: 23/11/2023

ISSN (print): 0171-8630

ISSN (electronic): 1616-1599

Publisher: Inter-Research


DOI: 10.3354/meps13714


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Funder referenceFunder name
Cawthron Institute’s Internal Investment Fund
Massey University
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Coasts and Oceans Programme
New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)
Oranga Taiao Oranga Tangata research programme