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Response of single benthic metrics and multi-metric methods to anthropogenic pressure gradients, in five distinct European coastal and transitional ecosystems

Borja, Angel; Barbone, Enrico; Basset, Alberto; Borgersen, Gunhild; Brkljacic, Marijana; Elliott, Michael; Garmendia, Joxe Mikel; Marques, João Carlos; Mazik, Krysia; Muxika, Iñigo; Neto, João Magalhães; Norling, Karl; Rodríguez, J. Germán; Rosati, Ilaria; Rygg, Brage; Teixeira, Heliana; Trayanova, Antoaneta


Angel Borja

Enrico Barbone

Alberto Basset

Gunhild Borgersen

Marijana Brkljacic

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Professor Mike Elliott
Emeritus Professor of Estuarine and Coastal Sciences/ Research Professor, Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies

Joxe Mikel Garmendia

João Carlos Marques

Iñigo Muxika

João Magalhães Neto

Karl Norling

J. Germán Rodríguez

Ilaria Rosati

Brage Rygg

Heliana Teixeira

Antoaneta Trayanova


In recent times many benthic indices have been proposed to assess the ecological quality of marine waters worldwide. In this study we compared single metrics and multi-metric methods to assess coastal and transitional benthic status along human pressure gradients in five distinct environments across Europe: Varna bay and lake (Bulgaria), Lesina lagoon (Italy), Mondego estuary (Portugal), Basque coast (Spain) and Oslofjord (Norway). Hence, 13 single metrics (abundance, number of taxa, and several diversity and sensitivity indices) and eight of the most common indices used within the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) for benthic assessment were selected: index of size spectra (ISS), Benthic assessment tool (BAT), Norwegian quality index (NQI), Multivariate AMBI (M-AMBI), Benthic quality index (BQI), (Benthic ecosystem quality index (BEQI), Benthic index based on taxonomic sufficiency (BITS), and infaunal quality index (IQI). Within each system, sampling sites were ordered in an increasing pressure gradient according to a preliminary classification based on professional judgement. The different indices are largely consistent in their response to pressure gradient, except in some particular cases (i.e. BITS, in all cases, or ISS when a low number of individuals is present). Inconsistencies between indicator responses were most pronounced in transitional waters (i.e. IQI, BEQI), highlighting the difficulties of the generic application of indicators to all marine, estuarine and lagoonal environments. However, some of the single (i.e. ecological groups approach, diversity, richness) and multi-metric methods (i.e. BAT, M-AMBI, NQI) were able to detect such gradients both in transitional and coastal environments, being these multi-metric methods more consistent in the detection than single indices. This study highlights the importance of survey design and good reference conditions for some indicators. The agreement observed between different methodologies and their ability to detect quality trends across distinct environments constitutes a promising result for the implementation of the WFD's monitoring plans. Moreover, these results have management implications, regarding the dangers of misclassification, uncertainty in the assessment, use of conflicting indices, and testing and validation of indices. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Borja, A., Barbone, E., Basset, A., Borgersen, G., Brkljacic, M., Elliott, M., Garmendia, J. M., Marques, J. C., Mazik, K., Muxika, I., Neto, J. M., Norling, K., Rodríguez, J. G., Rosati, I., Rygg, B., Teixeira, H., & Trayanova, A. (2011). Response of single benthic metrics and multi-metric methods to anthropogenic pressure gradients, in five distinct European coastal and transitional ecosystems. Marine pollution bulletin, 62(3), 499-513.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Jan 7, 2011
Publication Date 2011-03
Print ISSN 0025-326X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 62
Issue 3
Pages 499-513
Keywords Indices; Multi-metric methods; Benthic fauna; Pressure gradient; Coastal and transitional waters; Water framework directive
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