Long-term changes in community composition and life-history traits in a highly exploited basin (northern Adriatic Sea): the role of environment and anthropogenic pressures


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The changes in a marine community in the northern Adriatic Sea were explored over a period of 65 years using landings data from a commercial fishing fleet, and the role of fishing pressure and environmental variations in driving these changes was investigated. A total of 40 taxonomic categories, including one or several species, were analysed, representing 93·7% of the total landings. From 1945 to 2010 a significant decrease in the evenness index was observed, indicating a trend towards landings dominated by fewer taxa. The composition of the landings showed a temporal shift during the 1980s; from 1945 to the 1980s a continuous, clear change in composition took place, probably driven by an increase in fishing pressure as well as riverine nutrient inputs. Since the 1980s, a different trend of changing composition emerged. Among the analysed predictors, fishing capacity, summer seawater temperature, inflow from the Po River (the major river of the northern Adriatic Sea) and nutrients were related to the changes in landings. In relation to life-history traits of the landed species, the community shifted from large, late-maturing species to more fecund, smaller and earlier-maturing species. A high fishing pressure is probably the major cause of these changes, possibly acting synergistically with environmental variations.