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Ecology of marine landscapes and habitats: Report of field work in Ria de Formosa

Ines Haberle EMBC 2012/2013

June, 2013

Habitat mapping is a multidisciplinary approach for addressing spatial distribution of habitats and projecting it on a 2D map. It generally combines geophysical and biological data, used to map not only the physical environment but also the associated community types. The limitation of this approach is that it cannot be used for extensive areas since biological data are generally lacking at a large scale. To overcome this problem, Roff and Taylor (2000) developed the concept of marine landscapes which allows to map habitats relatively fast without using biological data. The concept is based on the assumption that there is a link between abiotic and biotic elements and that geophysical data can be used as a proxy for biological data. Because the approach serves as an alternative for habitat mapping, the defined marine landscapes must assure that they are biologically relevant, i.e. they have to be supported with biological information. This biological data is usually derived from real biological samples on the one hand and from sediment parameters on the other hand. Another important term of addressing biotic-abiotic connection was first introduced in 1908 by Frederik Dahl as "the biotope of a biocenosis". During the last 20 years, its meaning has evolved in several directions. Nowadays, biotope is recognised as a fundamental organizational unit of coastal ecosystems, consisting of two main components: physical 'habitat' and its biological 'community. The first component is defined by the environmental factors and has three structural parameters - heterogeneity, complexity, and the definition scale. The second component refers to species composition which depends on their access to the habitat and on other biological requirements. But not only living organisms themselves can be considered as biological features. Rather, these include also the signs of any biological activity such as empty shells, faecal pellets, burrows, or traces (Olenin and Ducrotoy 2006). In this study, the biotope approach was used to address habitat composition of a sandy muddy tidal flat in Ria Formosa. The most important abiotic factor was sediment type, followed by wetness and slope. For the biotic component seagrass and shell coverage were observed, along with presence of algae.

Study area
Ria de Formosa is a lagoon system in south of Portugal, placed along the eastern coast of the Algarve Region. It streches from from Faro in the west to Tavira in the east, covering the area of around 110 km2 (Figure 1a). This large mesotidal multi-inlet barrier system has average depth of 4 meters and is characterized by sand and mudflats that are exposed during low, and submerged during high tide. Tides play an important role in functioning of this system. Tidal dynamics is highly connected with sediment dynamics, controlling inflow of the sediments in and out of the lagoon. The representative constituent of tides in Ria Formosa is principal lunar semi-diurnal (M2) constituent, resulting in two high and two low waters each day. (Dias and Sousa 2009)

Figure 1 The Ria Formosa Lagoon (a) and location of our study area (b). Letter T indicates the position of the transect. (Adapted from: (a) Dias and Sousa 2009; (b) Google Maps)

Our study site is located on the western part of Ria Formosa, nearby the Faro Airport (Figure 1b). It is a sandy muddy tidal flat sized about 100 meters is lenght. Towards the water there is a slight slope, making the upper sandy part of the flat dryer than the lower muddy part. The study site is partially covered by terrestrial grass that appears in two patches, one large and one small. Our observing and sampling took place on 18th of April from 13h to 15h, during low tide.

Materials and methods

During the field work few different techniques were used in order to determine present biotopes. They can be divided in two main groups: Sampling and Describing.

Sampling. The sampling strategy was a transect. The choice of transect direction and length
was random, but was based on quick pre-observation of the study area, in order to enable addressing the gradient of biotopes. Selected transect was oriented from the upper part of the tidal flat (high tide line) towards the water level during the low tide. The length of the transect was about 12 meters and the sampling was done on 5 sites along it, approximately every 3 meters (Figure 2). The first (0th meter) and the last three (6th, 9th, 12th m) sampling sites corresponded with potential biotopes. One additional sampling was made on 3rd meter (noted as Sample 2), as it looked like an intermediate biotope (Appendix, Sampling site 2 figures). At each site, two random photo shoots were taken, using a 50 cm ruler as a scale. Also, organisms from those areas were sampled in a plastic bag, separately for each sampling site. Next day, organisms were identified in the lab using different identification guides/keys and with generous help and contribution of the University staff. The list of sampled organisms is presented in Table 1.

12m 9m




Figure 2 Transect overview. White horizontal lines correspond to specific sampling sites.

Biotope Description. During the sampling, extra notes about geophysical and biological
characteristics of sampling sites were taken. Along with this notes, photo shoots were used to describe coverage in more details. For organism assemblage comparison, the presence of each species at different sites was taken into account. The species data was analysed with PRIMER software, providing similarity matrix, cluster and multidimensional scaling plot. All before mentioned results helped in identifying individual biotopes. The sampling site was considered as a separate biotope if the scale of unique feature (e.g. shell gravel, algal mats) was 2x2m area at least.

Results and Discussion

Transect overview. Looking at the transect from a distance, I could recognize 4 different
zones when moving from the upper part towards the water level. These were the preobserved, potential biotopes where sampling was made. As mentioned before, I took one additional sample between first and second biotope. It looked like an intermediate biotope, and I wanted to see whether it is a part of adjacent biotope or if it can be considered as a separate one as well. Table 1 The list of sampled organisms and their presence/absence at specific sampling sites
Sampling site Phylum - Class Species
Gibbula umbilicalis Mesalia varia Monodonta sp.

+ + + +

+ + + + + + +

Mollusca - Gastropoda

Nassarius pfeifferi Nassarius reticulatus Columbella rustica Conus ventricosus Anomia ephippium

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Mollusca - Bivalvia Arthropoda - Crustacea Chlorophyta Phaeophyceae Angiosperms

Cerastoderma edule Barnacle Ulva sp. Ulva enteromorpha var. Intestinalis Fucus spiralis Zostera noltii Terrestrial grass

Biotope identification. To visually identify different biotopes along the transect, sediment
type, colour and wetness were chosen as dominant physical features. Dominant biological features were seagrass and shell coverage. Secondary features that could help in determining biotopes were slope as abiotic and presence of algae as biotic factor. According to before mentioned characteristics, 4 potential biotopes could have been visually observed, on Sampling sites 1, 3, 4 and 5. These are: muddy sand with shell coverage, muddy sand with seagrass and algal and coverage, semi-dry mud with terrestrial grass and dry seagrass and algae, and deep wet mud with seagrass coverage. There is one intermediate biotope on the Sampling site 2 that has muddy/sandy sediment and both algal and shell coverage.

Describing sampling sites and biotopes based on species samples and photo shoots.
Here, a more detailed description of each sampling site and potential biotope is provided. It is based on sampled organisms (Table 1) and photo shoots that can be found in the Appendix at the end of this report. Sampling site 1 The first sampling site was located on the upper part of the transect, about 20 meters from the low tide water line. It is characterized by brownish muddy sand sediment that is drier than the rest of the transect. The flat sediment is covered with bivalve and gastropod shells and a bit of gravel. There are few fragments of Zostera noltii leaves, probably delivered during the high tide. No algae were found on this site. Based on the photo shoots, shells make 50% of the total coverage. Sampling site 2 intermediate biotope At first look, it seems like this site has the same features as the Sampling site 3. But when examined in detail, I found that it also shares some physical and biological characteristics with Sampling site 1. The base is brown coloured mud, but the coverage is transitioning towards the seagrass and algal dominance with visibly less shell gravel. The statistical analysis of the samples gives more information on similarity between this intermediate sampling site and its surrounding ones (Figure 3). This helps to determine whether it can be considered as a separate biotope or not, which is discussed later. As seen on the pictures, seagrass coverage takes around 40%, algal 20%, and shells 10% of the surface. All animal organisms found on this site belong to Gastropod class. Sampling site 3 Moving closer to the water level, the sediment gets wetter and darker. On the 6th meter of the transect, the sediment is homogenous, dark brown mud. It is not visible due to thick algal mat lying on Zostera noltii patch. There are no animal traces on surface, but we could probably expect infaunal species that are burrowed in the mud.

80% of the coverage consists of filamentous green algae Ulva enteromorpha var. intestinalis. The rest is the contribution of Zostera noltii and a different Ulva species (leafy). No animals or their remains were found and collected at this sampling site. Sampling site 4 This was visually the most distinct sampling site. The reason was the presence of terrestrial grass creating an island in surrounding muddy sediment. The size of the grass patch was around 5m2 so I consider it as a separate biotope. The sediment is black mud that is semi-dry due to a slight flat elevation in comparison to adjacent biotopes. Except terrestrial grass that makes more than 60% of the coverage, the rest are dried algae fragments: Fucus spiralis (30%), Zostera noltii (<10%) and Ulva sp. (10%). Only two animal species were found, one of them being present only in this biotope (Monodonta sp.). Sampling site 5 The last part of the transect was closest to the water and is highly impacted by water movement during tide changes. This is probably the reason why not so much algal coverage was found it was moved by the water. The sediment here is mud, it is the deepest of all transect, and its colour is black. 90% of the coverage is Zostera noltii, with the rest being filamentous and leafy Ulva species. There was one gastropod species found on this site (Nassarius pfeifferi), probably transported by tidal movement from the upper part of the transect.

Similarity analysis. With the help of PRIMER software I compared samples from all sampling
sites along the transect. The results of all analyses performed on the collected data are shown on Figure 3. As seen from the similarity matrix and clustering, the most similar sampling sites are 3 and 5, with the similarity over 85%. This results are based on biological features only (presence of seagrass, algae coverage, no animals), but if we compare the physical features as well muddy sediment, wetness, light slope - we could say this two are really the same biotope. The only difference is the amount of algal coverage, which can be due to transport of algae during tidal water movement. Site 2 is as assumed more similar to site 3 than to site 1, due to presence of floral coverage, but still differs in sampled animals. Although it may be considered as a different biotope, no appropriate unique EUNIS habitat unit was found. Sample sites 4 and 1 are the most distinct from all others. Both of them can be considered as different biotopes, because of terrestrial grass presence, and absence of any plant coverage, respectively. The MDS plot confirms the given analysis, putting Samples 3 and 5 closer, while Samples 1 and 4 are far apart.




Figure 3 Results of PRIMER analyses: similarity matrix (a), cluster (b) and multidimensional scaling plot (c).

Biotope identification and the relation to EUNIS classification. After samples and photo
shoots were analysed, I concluded that along the chosen transect there are 3 distinct, and one intermediate biotope. An overview of sampling sites, correspondent biotope, and the nearest EUNIS habitat classification are presented in Table 2. * Table 2. Sampling sites, correspondent biotope and its nearest EUNIS habitat type Site Biotope
1 2 3 4 5 Muddy sand with bivalve and gastropod shell fragments Mud with combination of Zostera noltii, algal and shell fragments coverage Mud with Zostera noltii beds and algal coverage Terrestrial grass patch with algal and seagrass fragments Mud with Zostera noltii beds and algal coverage

Nearest EUNIS classification*

A2.242 [Cerastoderma edule] and polychaetes in littoral muddy sand

Intermediate between A2.242 and A.26111 A2.6111 A2.5 A2.6111 [Zostera noltii] beds in littoral muddy sand Coastal saltmarshes and saline reedbeds [Z. noltii] beds in littoral muddy sand

*Source: European Environment Agency (EEA) - European Nature Information System (EUNIS): Habitat types. http://eunis.eea.europa.eu/habitats.jsp. Accessed on 4th of May 2013. 7

The main goals of the field work in Ria Formosa tidal flat was to get experience in identification of biotopes, practice how to describe them correctly and improve sampling methodology. The sampling strategy was a transect, and notes and samples (biological, photo shoots) were taken on 5 distances. Integration of lab, computer and descriptive data analysis resulted in identification of 3 distinct and one intermediate biotopes: Muddy sand with bivalve and gastropod shell fragments Muddy sand with combination of Zostera noltii, algal and shell fragments coverage (intermediate biotope) Mud with Zostera noltii beds and Ulva coverage Terrestrial grass patch with dry algal and Zostera noltii fragments

This results show expected number of biotopes, but their distribution slightly differs from my initial proposal. I assumed sites 1, 3, 4 and 5 are all different, but the analysis showed that sites 3 and 5 can be considered as a same biotope. Also, I assumed sampling site 2 was a part of adjecent biotope, while in fact it can be considered as a separate one. For all four described biotopes equivalents have been found in EUNIS classification system. As the biotope identification and description was done by inexperienced person, some mistakes in process could be found. Nevertheless, the general view on tidal flat biotopes presented here should be correct and any further work on this specific subject could use this data as a starting point.

Dias J.M., Sousa M. (2009) Numerical modeling of Ria Formosa tidal dynamics. Journal of Coastal Research, SI56, 1345-1349 European Environment Agency (EEA) (2007) European Nature Information System (EUNIS): Habitat types. http://eunis.eea.europa.eu/habitats.jsp Olenin S., Ducrotoy J-P. (2006) The concept of biotope in marine ecology and coastal management. Marine pollution bulletin, 53, 20-29 Roff J.C., Taylor M.E. (2000) Viewpoint: National frameworks for marine conservation a hierarchical geophysical approach. Aquatic conservation and freshwater ecosystems, 10, 209-223

Appendix - Sampling site photo shoots (2 per site)

Sampling site 1

Sampling site 2


Sampling site 3


Sampling site 4


Sampling site 5