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Physical Disturbance and Marine Benthic Communities: The Effects of Mechanical Harvesting of Cockles on Non-Target Benthic Infauna

Stephen J. Hall and Melanie J. C. Harding
Journal of Applied Ecology
Vol. 34, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 497-517
DOI: 10.2307/2404893
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2404893
Page Count: 21
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Physical Disturbance and Marine Benthic Communities: The Effects of Mechanical Harvesting of Cockles on Non-Target Benthic Infauna
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Abstract

1. The effects of physical disturbance processes on marine benthic communities remain an issue of considerable theoretical and practical importance, particularly with respect to the impact of fisheries activity and possible conflict with wildlife conservation objectives. One area where particular concern has been raised is with respect to the effects of mechanical harvesting of cockles (Cerastoderma edule) on non-target benthic infauna in intertidal communities. 2. This paper describes the results of manipulative field experiments which examine the effects of disturbance by two mechanical cockle harvesting methods, hydraulic suction dredging and tractor dredging. 3. Although the suction dredge experiment revealed some statistically significant effects, taken as a whole the results indicated that the faunal structure in disturbed plots recovered (i.e. approached that of the un-disturbed controls) by 56 days. This occurred against a background of consistent increases in the abundance of many taxa in both treatments, which we interpret as the normal seasonal response of the community. 4. The tractor dredge experiment revealed fewer statistically significant effects than the suction dredge experiment, and recovery from disturbance occurred against a background of general seasonal decline in the abundance of the fauna. From the available evidence the most likely mechanism of recovery was through the immigration of adults into disturbed areas. 5. We conclude that mechanical harvesting methods impose high levels of mortality on nontarget benthic fauna, but that recovery of disturbed sites is rapid and the overall effects on populations is probably low. Although our results suggest that tractor dredging has less effect than suction dredging, this result is most likely to be a consequence of the different times of year in which the experiments were conducted. Thus, for this location, we do not believe that a distinction can be made between the effects of the two methods. Although experimental manipulations cannot be conducted on comparable spatial scales to real fishing activity, we believe these results probably do not represent a major under-estimate of recovery times for intertidal habitats similar to the one chosen for this study.

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