Salinity drives meiofaunal community structure dynamics across the Baltic ecosystem

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  • Elias Broman
    Stockholm University
  • Caroline Raymond
    Stockholm University
  • Christian Sommer
    Södertörn University, Huddinge
  • Jonas S. Gunnarsson
    Stockholm University
  • Simon Creer
  • Francisco J. A. Nascimento
    Stockholm University

Coastal benthic biodiversity is under increased pressure from climate change, eutrophication, hypoxia, and changes in salinity due to increase in river runoff. The Baltic Sea is a large brackish system characterized by steep environmental gradients that experiences all of the mentioned stressors. As such it provides an ideal model system for studying the impact of on-going and future climate change on biodiversity and function of benthic ecosystems. Meiofauna (animals < 1 mm) are abundant in sediment and are still largely unexplored even though they are known to regulate organic matter degradation and nutrient cycling. In this study, benthic meiofaunal community structure was analysed along a salinity gradient in the Baltic Sea proper using high-throughput sequencing. Our results demonstrate that areas with higher salinity have a higher biodiversity, and salinity is probably the main driver influencing meiofauna diversity and community composition. Furthermore, in the more diverse and saline environments a larger amount of nematode genera classified as predators prevailed, and meiofauna-macrofauna associations were more prominent. These findings show that in the Baltic Sea, a decrease in salinity resulting from accelerated climate change will probably lead to decreased benthic biodiversity, and cause profound changes in benthic communities, with potential consequences for ecosystem stability, functions and services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3813-3829
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number16
Early online date22 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

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