The effects of green shelled mussel mariculture on benthic communities in Hauraki Gulf
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Sea-bed benthic-invertebrate assemblages of species within and proximal to an existing mussel farm off Taniwhanui Point, eastern Waiheke Island, are reported. Substratum type, whether predominantly mud, gravels or an admixture of the two, mud/gravels, is shown to influence infaunal species assemblage composition; the bivalve Theora lubrica, ostracods, amphipods and polychaetes characterise muddy substrata; polychaetes, particularly spionids and syllids, ostracods, amphipods, bivalves and ophiuroids characterise mud/gravel substrata; and diverse assemblages of polychaetes, bivalves, pagurid crabs, gastropods, ostracods, ophiuroids and nemertean worms characterise gravel substrata. Significant differences in sea-bed assemblages are reported along one transect inside and outside the farm over the three seasons during which surveys were conducted, summer, autumn, winter of 2008. Along the northern side of the mussel farm those sediments beneath the farm are characterised by greater abundances of polychaetes and crustaceans (Malacostraca), whereas sediments outside the farm are characterised by greater abundances of bivalves and ostracods. Sediments both inside and outside the north-eastern border of the farm during summer are characterised by similar abundances of polychaetes, bivalves and ostracods. Similarly, those sediments within and outside the farm along its southern border during summer are characterised by abundances of polychaetes, bivalves, crustaceans (Malacostraca) and gastropods. Measures of relative abundance, rarity and species richness are applied to sea-bed assemblages off eastern Waiheke Island to enable an appraisal of the spatial distribution of each within and outside the farm, and throughout the eastern Waiheke Island region. One of these measures, relative abundance, is then compared with other, albeit limited abundance data from previous soft-sediment surveys conducted throughout Hauraki Gulf. The most species rich and abundant sites off eastern Waiheke Island occur in gravelly substrata between Waiheke Island and Pakatoa Island, and between Rotoroa and Ponui Islands, in addition to beneath the southern portion of the existing mussel farm. Gravel-based substrata are recognised to be the most species rich and densely populated with invertebrates for this sediment type in Hauraki Gulf. Similarly, the muddy substrata off eastern Waiheke Island region appear to host more individuals and species than any other reported muddy substratum in Hauraki Gulf. The existing mussel farm is shown to significantly affect sea-bed communities, but in a manner that has not been previously reported in New Zealand. Species richness and abundance are greater beneath the farm, as are the proportions of very rare and uncommon taxa to more common and ubiquitous taxa. Sediments beneath the farm are not characterised by elevated abundances and richness of opportunistic species; and no obvious difference in sediment grain size is apparent along a transect extending from 20 m inside the farm to at least 110 m outside it. The biological footprint of the farm is limited, appearing to extend no further than 20 metres from the northern physical boundary of the farm; the gross sedimentary characteristics (grain size) do not differ significantly within and outside the farm. Within and immediately outside the farm species richness and abundance tend to increase during colder seasons; beneath the farm, species richness (d), abundance (N), Shannon index (H’) and Simpson index (1-λ’) were higher during May (autumn) and August (winter) than during February (summer); diversity values outside the farm were similar during summer and autumn, but species richness (d), evenness (J’), Shannon index (H’) and Simpson index (1-λ’) were all greater during winter. No opportunistic taxa are considered to be appropriate indicators of organically enriched environments, at least enrichment that can be intuitively linked to any direct effect of the existing mussel farm. One species, the heart urchin Echinocardium cordatum, only rarely occurs inside the physical farm boundary, so its relative abundance renders it an appropriate indicator species of mussel-farm impacts.