Effects of experimental small-scale cockle (Cerastoderma edule L.) fishing on ecosystem function


  • Conflicts of interest
    The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Christopher P. Cesar, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Crown Street, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK.
E-mail: ccesar@liv.ac.uk


The cockle Cerastoderma edule L. occurs at commercially exploited densities within both species-poor and species-rich assemblages, dominating the faunal biomass and potentially acting as a key contributor to a number of ecological functions. The questions considered were: Is the delivery of ecological functions affected by the removal of C. edule? Does the biodiversity of the affected assemblage affect the extent to which it is altered? To explore these questions, adult cockles were removed from experimental plots at two shores in the North-West of England: a species-poor shore at Warton Sands, Morecambe Bay, and a more diverse shore at Thurstaston, Dee estuary. Impacts on the functioning of the systems were determined during a 4-month study in summer 2007 by direct measurements of benthic primary production, organic matter content and sediment granulometry, and by indirect analyses using Biological Traits Analysis. Removal of adult cockles led to significant changes in faunal assemblage composition and in the distribution of biological traits, with increased biodiversity and an increased prevalence of traits relating to opportunistic taxa observed following the removal of C. edule. These changes occurred at both study sites and hence were independent of the initial biodiversity of the assemblages. Sediment granulometry was significantly affected; however, surface chlorophyll and organic matter were not affected. This implies a minimal impact on these functions and a high degree of functional redundancy within the macrofauna. The implications of these findings and future areas of research are discussed.