Marine benthic habitats in continental shelf regions are increasingly impacted by hypoxia caused by the combination of eutrophication and climate warming. Many regions that have the potential for hypoxic conditions are being fished by mobile bottom-contacting fishing gears. The combined effects of trawling and hypoxia may be synergistic and disproportionally impact benthic fauna, or they may act antagonistically, leading to smaller trawl impacts in hypoxic areas. Yet, few studies have quantified how bottom trawling and hypoxia interact to affect benthic communities. Here we examine these combined effects on benthic community biomass and abundance, the number of large organisms, the longevity distribution of the community and the vertical position of fauna in the sediment in the southern Baltic Sea. We find large declines in benthic biomass and abundance that co-occur with declines in near-bed oxygen concentrations from 5.8 to 0.8 ml O2 l-1. Conversely, no relationships and weak positive relationships are found between bottom trawl disturbance and benthic community biomass and abundance. No interacting effects between hypoxia and trawling are detected. Our findings therefore highlight a low likelihood of synergistic impacts of bottom trawling and hypoxia on the benthic communities studied. These results suggest that management may prioritize benthic protection from fishing in regions that are not in a state of oxygen stress.
- Baltic sea
- Body size
- Vertical position in sediment