Benthic ecosystem functioning under climate change: modelling the bioturbation potential for benthic key species in the southern North Sea


Climate change affects the marine environment on many levels with profound consequences for numerous biological, chemical, and physical processes. Benthic bioturbation is one of the most relevant and significant processes for benthic-pelagic coupling and biogeochemical fluxes in marine sediments, such as the uptake, transport, and remineralisation of organic carbon. However, only little is known about how climate change affects the distribution and intensity of benthic bioturbation of a shallow temperate shelf sea system such as the southern North Sea. In this study, we modelled and projected changes in bioturbation potential (BPp) under a continuous global warming scenario for seven southern North Sea key bioturbators: Abra alba, Amphiura filiformis, Callianassa subterranea, Echinocardium cordatum, Goniada maculata, Nephtys hombergii, and Nucula nitidosa. Spatial changes in species bioturbation intensity are simulated for the years 2050 and 2099 based on one species distribution model per species driven by bottom temperature and salinity changes using the IPCC SRES scenario A1B. Local mean bottom temperature was projected to increase between 0.15 and 5.4 °C, while mean bottom salinity was projected to moderately decrease by 1.7. Our results show that the considered benthic species are strongly influenced by the temperature increase. Although the total BP remained rather constant in the southern North Sea, the BPp for four out of seven species was projected to increase, mainly due to a simultaneous northward range expansion, while the BPp in the core area of the southern North Sea declined for the same species. Bioturbation of the most important species, Amphiura filiformis and Echinocardium cordatum, showed no substantial change in the spatial distribution, but over time. The BPp of E. cordatum remained almost constant until 2099, while the BPp of A. filiformis decreased by 41%. The northward expansion of some species and the decline of most species in the south led to a change of relative contribution to bioturbation in the southern North Sea. These results indicate that some of the selected key bioturbators in the southern North Sea might partly compensate the decrease in bioturbation by others. But especially in the depositional areas where bioturbation plays a specifically important role for ecosystem functioning, bioturbation potential declined until 2099, which might affect the biochemical cycling in sediments of some areas of the southern North Sea.
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