Zonation of intertidal macrobenthos in the estuaries of Schelde and Ems

Research paper by T. Ysebaert, P. Meire, J. Coosen, K. Essink

Indexed on: 01 Mar '98Published on: 01 Mar '98Published in: Aquatic Ecology


Based on data, collected in 1980–1990, the intertidal benthic macrofauna of the Schelde and Ems estuaries was compared. The spatial occurrence of the benthic macrofauna along the salinity gradient, including the freshwater tidal area was emphasized. Both estuaries appeared to have a very similar species composition, especially at genus level. The higher number of species observed in the Schelde estuary was probably due to a greater habitat diversity. In both estuaries species diversity decreased with distance upstream. The total density did not vary along the estuarine gradient, whereas biomass is highest in the polyhaline zone.In both estuaries distinct intertidal benthic communities were observed along the salinity gradient: a marine community in the polyhaline zone, a brackish community in the mesohaline zone, and a third community in the oligohaline and freshwater tidal zones of the estuary. These three communities were very similar between both estuaries. Their main characteristics were discussed together with the occurrence and distribution of the dominant species.For the Schelde estuary and to a lesser extent also for the Ems estuary, there was evidence that anthropogenic stress had a negative effect on the intertidal macrobenthic communities of the oligohaline/freshwater tidal zone. Only Oligochaeta were dominating, whereas the very euryhaline and/or true limnetic species were missing. In the mesohaline zone, the Schelde estuary was dominated by large numbers of short-living, opportunistic species, whereas in the Ems estuary relatively more stable macrobenthic communities were observed. A comparison with some other European estuaries showed in general similar trends as those observed for the Schelde and Ems estuaries.