Tracing the effects of eutrophication on molluscan communities in sediment cores: Outbreaks of an opportunistic species coincide with reduced bioturbation and high frequency of hypoxia in the Adriatic Sea

Adam Tomašovych, Ivo Gallmetzer, Alexandra Haselmair, Darrell S Kaufman, Martina Kralj, Daniele Cassin, Roberto Zonta, Martin Zuschin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Scopus citations


Estimating the effects and timing of anthropogenic impacts on the composition of macrobenthic communities is challenging, because early twentieth-century surveys are sparse and the corresponding intervals in sedimentary sequences are mixed by bioturbation. Here, to assess the effects of eutrophication on macrobenthic communities in the northern Adriatic Sea, we account for mixing with dating of the bivalve Corbula gibba at two stations with high accumulation (Po prodelta) and one station with moderate accumulation (Isonzo prodelta). We find that, first, pervasively bioturbated muds typical of highstand conditions deposited in the early twentieth century were replaced by muds with relicts of flood layers and high content of total organic carbon (TOC) deposited in the late twentieth century at the Po prodelta. The twentieth century shelly muds at the Isonzo prodelta are amalgamated but also show an upward increase in TOC. Second, dating of C. gibba shells shows that the shift from the early to the late twentieth century is characterized by a decrease in stratigraphic disorder and by an increase in temporal resolution of assemblages from ∼25-50 years to ∼10-20 years in both regions. This shift reflects a decline in the depth of the fully mixed layer from more than 20 cm to a few centimeters. Third, the increase in abundance of the opportunistic species C. gibba and the loss of formerly abundant, hypoxia-sensitive species coincided with the decline in bioturbation, higher preservation of organic matter, and higher frequency of seasonal hypoxia in both regions. This depositional and ecosystem regime shift occurred in ca. a.d. 1950. Therefore, the effects of enhanced food supply on macrobenthic communities were overwhelmed by oxygen depletion, even when hypoxic conditions were limited to few weeks per year in the northern Adriatic Sea. Preservation of trends in molluscan abundance and flood events in cores was enhanced by higher frequency of hypoxia that reduced bioturbation in the late twentieth century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-602
Number of pages28
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Palaeontology

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