Response of benthic assemblages to multiple stressors: comparative effects of nutrient enrichment and physical disturbance

Joseph M. Kenworthy*, David M. Paterson, Melanie J. Bishop

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Stressors to ecological communities often overlap in time and space and may have additive, synergistic or antagonistic effects. Nutrient enrichment and physical disturbance are 2 commonly co-occurring stressors to estuarine ecosystems, but their combined effects have mainly been investigated in mesocosm experiments of unknown relevance to field scenarios. Here, the interacting effects of these 2 stressors were examined at 2 field locations (Botany Bay and Lane Cove, New South Wales, Australia) using a fully orthogonal manipulative experiment. All possible combinations of zero, low and high intensities of nutrient enrichment and physical disturbance on macrofaunal and microphytobenthic communities were examined. Effects of stressors were generally site-specific and additive, differing in terms of magnitude of effects, although some idiosyncratic interactive effects were demonstrated for selected species. Where effects of stressors were observed, nutrient enrichment generally increased microphytobenthic biomass and altered the macrofaunal community structure while physical disturbance produced limited impacts. The divergent results of this and previous mesocosm experiments, which found primarily interactive effects of the stressors, highlights the importance of undertaking field experiments that offer a greater element of realism. Furthermore, this study, in finding differing responses to stressors at the 2 sites, highlights the importance of environmental context in mediating effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-51
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2016


  • Context dependence
  • Disturbance
  • Field experiments
  • Macrobenthos
  • Microphytobenthos
  • Multiple stressors
  • Nutrient enrichment


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