Modelling spatio-temporal patterns of fish community size structure across the northern Mediterranean Sea: an analysis combining MEDITS survey data with environmental and anthropogenic drivers
Keywords:demersal fish community, size structure indicators, geographical sub-area, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, dynamic factor analysis, redundancy analysis
The state of marine systems subject to natural or anthropogenic impacts can be generally summarized by suites of ecological indicators carefully selected to avoid redundancy. Length-based indicators capture the status of fish community structure, fulfilling the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requirement for Descriptor 3 (status of commercial fish species). Although the MSFD recommends the development of regional indicators, a comparison among alternative length-based indicators is so far missing for the Mediterranean Sea. Using principal component analysis and dynamic factor analysis, we identified the most effective subset of length-based indicators, whether or not based on maximum length. Indicator trends and time series of fishing effort and environmental variables are also compared in order to highlight the individual and combined capability of indicators to track system changes across geographical sub-areas. Two indicators, typical length and mean maximum length, constitute the smallest set of non-redundant indicators, capturing together 87.45% of variability. Only in combination can these indicators disentangle changes in the fish community composition from modifications of size structure. Our study supports the inclusion of typical length among the regional MSFD Descriptor 3 indicators for the Mediterranean Sea. Finally, we show dissimilarity between the western and eastern-central Mediterranean, suggesting that there are sub-regional differences in stressors and community responses.
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