Interactions between meiobenthic diversity (in casu Nematoda) and tourism on three European sandy beaches

Completed: October 2000 - September 2004

The European coastline consists for more than 30 % of sandy beaches. In spite of their rather barren and desert-like view, these European coasts harbour a highly diverse fauna and flora and some of them are even highly productive. In contrast to tropical sandy beaches, little is known about the taxonomy and the diversity (structural and functional) of the different benthic components. The project at hand, as part of the LITUS consortium ‘Interactions of biodiversity, productivity and tourism on European sandy beaches’, aims to get an idea about the structural and functional diversity of the meiofauna (all Metazoan organisms between 38 µm en 1mm), emphasizing on free-living marine nematodes, of three European sandy beaches (i.e. Belgium, Poland and Italy).

European sandy beaches are under strong anthropogenic pressure (e.g. pollution, eutrophication, coastal fisheries and mass tourism), which has a substantial impact on the interstitial life and functioning of the sandy beach ecosystem. Nematodes are very suitable for monitoring studies and will be used in the second part of this proposal to compare diversity and productivity between ‘impacted’ and ‘un-impacted’ sandy beaches. Finally, indicator species will be identified based on their occurrence in disturbed sediments. Those indicator species could be used in future research as a tool for measuring the disturbance of sandy sediments en could also be useful in coastal conservation.

In order to document the structural and functional diversity of meiobenthos of the above-mentioned European sandy beaches, quantitative samples along transects have been collected at the end of the touristic season. Meiobenthic communities will be followed during a one year cycle by means of monthly sampling campaigns along the same transect between mean high and low water level on both disturbed and undisturbed parts of the beaches. Meiobenthos will be processed and determined by standard procedures and further analysed by means of statistical and multivariate techniques. Only nematodes will be enumerated and analysed at species level. In addition, productivity of nematodes will be calculated.

Some field experiments to investigate effect of disturbance on sediment will be set up in order to monitor the recolonisation of pristine beaches after different degrees of disturbance.

Keywords: sandy beach ecology, nematode morphology and diversity, monitoring, disturbance