Partial recovery of macro-epibenthic assemblages on the north-west shelf of the Black Sea

Tim Stevens, Laurence Mee, Jana Friedrich, Dmitry Aleynik, Galina Minicheva

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The north-west shelf of the Black Sea has suffered well-documented declines in
biodiversity since the 1960s, and by the 1990s was considered a dead zone with
virtually no sign of macroscopic epibenthic life. It was characterised by high levels of anthropogenic input, massive phytoplankton blooms, and periodically hypoxic to anoxic bottom waters. An important contributor to primary production on the northwest shelf is the red alga Phyllophora spp. growing in waters to 70 m depth. Phyllophora is a habitat forming taxon supporting complex assemblages of bivalves, sponges, and ascidians, with an associated rich fish fauna. From 1990 on, nutrient loads entering the system plummeted and the severity of algal blooms decreased. Changes to benthic communities, however, were far less rapid, and the trajectory and rate of any recovery
of the dead zone, in particular Zernov’s Phyllophora Field, is far from certain. This study used towed underwater video imagery from research cruises in summer 2006 and spring 2008 to classify and map macro-epibenthic assemblage structure, and related this to putative physical, chemical and spatial drivers. Distinct and relatively stable benthic communities were in evidence across the northwest shelf at that time. These communities were largely structured by substrate type and depth, but there is some evidence that nutrients continued to play a role. Phyllophora spp. was present across much, but not all, of its former range, but at far lower percent cover than previously.
The pattern of abundance of Phyllophora in 2006–2008 did not correlate with the documented pre-eutrophication pattern from 1966. There is some evidence that fastergrowing opportunistic species have hindered to recovery. We conclude that while there was evidence of sustained recovery, by 2008 the macro-epibenthic communities of the northwest shelf of the Black Sea were far from their pre-eutrophication state.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Issue number474
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2019


  • macro-epibenthos
  • Black Sea
  • Phyllophora
  • towed video
  • dead zone
  • ecosystem recovery


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