Natural or anthropogenic variability? A long-term pattern of the zooplankton communities in an ever-changing transitional ecosystem

Abstract

The Venice Lagoon is an important site belonging to the Italian Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTER). Alongside with the increasing trend of water temperature and the relevant morphological changes, in recent years, the resident zooplankton populations have also continued to cope with the colonization by alien species, particularly the strong competitor Mnemiopsis leidyi. In this work, we compared the dynamics of the lagoon zooplankton over a period of 20 years. The physical and biological signals are analyzed and compared to evaluate the hypothesis that a slow shift in the environmental balance of the site, such as temperature increase, sea level rise (hereafter called “marinization”), and competition between species, is contributing to trigger a drift in the internal equilibrium of the resident core zooplankton. Though the copepod community does not seem to have changed its state, some important modifications of structure and assembly mechanisms have already been observed. The extension of the marine influence within the lagoon has compressed the spatial gradients of the habitat and created a greater segregation of the niches available to some typically estuarine taxa and broadened and strengthened the interactions between marine species

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