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Fluctuations of macrobenthic populations: a link between climate-driven river run-off and sole fishery yields in the Gulf of Lions


The Rhone river is the most important input to the Mediterranean Sea, responsible for 50% of the primary productivity of the Gulf of Lions. A highly variable amount of 1–23×106 t year–1 of terrestrial material is exported to the sea by the Rhone and stocked on the continental shelf for the most part. Soft-bottom communities off the Rhone delta were dominated by polychaetes both in species richness and abundance, and exhibited strong temporal fluctuations mainly related to flooding events. Floods caused pulses of organic matter followed, with different time lags, by peaks of polychaetes. Opportunistic, short-lived species, such as Mediomastus sp. and Aricideaclaudiae, exhibited high short-term peaks in density and biomass a few months after flooding events. Conversely, long-lived species, such as Laonicecirrata and Sternaspisscutata, peaked in density and biomass with a time lag of 1–3 years, and their population increase lasted for a few years. The common sole, Soleasolea, is a voracious predator of polychaetes which represent >80% of its prey. A positive correlation was found between the mean annual discharge of the Rhone river and the annual commercial landings of S.solea with a time lag of 5 years in the two fishing harbours (Sete and Martigues) located close to the Rhone delta. The long-term increase in food (i.e. polychaete density and biomass) after flooding events might favour the different stages of the sole life cycle, enhancing its population size for several years. Fluctuations of sole fishery yields in the Gulf of Lions could be influenced by climate, as the Rhone river flow is related to the North Atlantic Oscillation that drives precipitation over Western Europe.