Biological traits of benthic macrofauna show sizebased differences in response to bottom trawling intensity

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Bottom trawling results in widespread impacts to the structure and composition of benthic communities. Although an ecosystem approach to fisheries management aims to conserve marine biodiversity and ecosystem function, there remains a lack of empirical evidence regarding the effects of trawling on benthic functional properties. Here, we examined the sensitivity of benthic macrofauna communities to trawling using their biological traits, and compared trait responses across size-categories and survey types. We collected 84 benthic soft-sediment samples by Van Veen grab (0.1 m2) in the Kattegat in 2016, and complemented with 827 Haps cores (0.0143 m2) gathered over a long-term monitoring programme between 2006 and 2013. By analysing trait response in 3 size categories (small: 1-4 mm fraction; large: ≥4 mm fraction; full community: all individuals combined), we demonstrate a size-dependent effect of trawling on benthic trait composition, where the traits of large-bodied fauna (≥4 mm) were more sensitive. Specifically, larger sessile, deep-living, suspension-feeding, tube-dwelling, subsurface deposit-feeding, burrow-dwelling, and long-lived (≥10 yr) individuals were among the most affected. Our results based on large fauna were largely in agreement with trait responses observed in the multi-year monitoring data, suggesting that trait data gathered from a targeted one-time sampling event can convey information on both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) trawling impacts. Given that most trawling impact assessments do not consider size-based effects, we outline how size-separating the community can be used to improve the detectability of trawling impacts, and provide new insights into the functional impacts of fishing on the seabed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Biological trait analysis
  • BTA
  • Benthic coomunities
  • Seabed function
  • Community-weighted mean
  • Fisheries
  • Trawling impact
  • Benthic indicators


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