The Mediterranean Sea hosts hundreds of offshore gas platforms, whose activity represents a potential threat to marine ecosystems. Evidence from several studies indicates that nematodes can be highly sensitive to changes in the environmental quality. Here, we investigated the response of nematode assemblages to the presence of offshore gas platforms (located in the central Mediterranean Sea) in terms of spatial heterogeneity, structural and functional diversity. Since the effect of the investigated offshore platforms on macrofaunal assemblages were previously assessed by Terlizzi et al. (2008), the study provided also the opportunity to compare the response of different benthic compartments to the same impact related to fossil fuel extraction on marine environments. The platforms had a significant impact on nematode assemblages up to 1000 m distance from the structure. The effects were evident in term of: a) more homogeneous spatial distribution of nematode assemblages, b) increased trophic diversity of deposit feeders and c) changes in life strategies with an increase of opportunistic species in sediments closer to the platforms. Such effects seemed to be related to the dimension of the platform structures, rather than to chemical pollution or changes in food availability. These findings suggest that the platforms exert a physical alteration of the surrounding environment that is reflected by altered structural and functional traits of nematode biodiversity. The use of nematodes for monitoring the effects of the platforms only partially matched with the results obtained using macrofauna, providing further insights on potential outcomes on the functional response of marine assemblages to fossil fuel extraction
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