Natural variability in hard-bottom communities and possible drivers assessed by a time-series study in the SW Baltic Sea: know the noise to detect the change
In order to detect shifts in community structure and function associated with global change, the natural background fluctuation in these traits must be known. In a 6 yr study we characterized the composition of young benthic communities at 7 sites along the 300 km coast of the Kiel and Lübeck bights in the German Baltic Sea and we quantified their interannual variability of taxonomic and functional composition. Along the salinity gradient from NW to SE, the relative abundance of primary producers decreased while that of heterotrophs increased. Along the same gradient, annual productivity tended to increase. Taxonomic and functional richness were higher in Kiel Bight as compared to Lübeck Bight. With increasing species richness functional group richness showed saturation indicating an increasing functional redundancy in species rich communities. While taxonomic fluctuations between years were substantial, functionality of the communities seem preserved in most cases. Environmental conditions potentially driving these fluctuations are winter temperatures and current regimes. We tentatively define a confidence range of natural variability in taxonomic and functional composition a departure from which might help identifying an ongoing regime shift driven by global change. In addition, we propose to use RELATE, a statistical procedure in the PRIMER (Plymouth Routines in Multivariate Ecological Research) package to distinguish directional shifts in time ("signal") from natural temporal fluctuations ("noise").