Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Saprobity: a unified view of benthic succession models for coastal lagoons

The benthos is an effective place to look for indicators of human-induced stress in aquatic ecosystems. Benthic fauna are important components of these systems, playing vital roles in detrital decomposition, nutrient cycling, and energy flow to higher trophic levels. Moreover, benthic fauna can be directly exposed to organic pollutants and chemical contaminants that accumulate in sediments where low-oxygen conditions are typically the most severe. Organic matter in surface sediments is an important source of food for benthic fauna. However, an over-abundance may lead to reductions in species richness, abundance, and biomass due to oxygen depletion and build-up of toxic by-products (e.g. ammonia and sulphide) associated with the breakdown of these materials1.


We associate the paradigm of benthic response to OM enrichment to the biological organization of shallow coastal waters at the landscape scale and in relation to the hydrological features of the system. This review can support local administrations, managers and policy-makers in planning recovery measures of degraded ecosystems.

In this paper, we briefly review conceptual models of benthic response to OM enrichment in three different aquatic ecosystems: freshwater, coastal marine and lagoon ecosystems. We demonstrate how conceptual models of benthic response to OM developed for rivers and lakes more than a century ago (e.g. the Saprobiensystem23) can be related to conceptual models developed more recently for coastal marine and lagoon ecosystems (the Pearson-Rosenberg4 and Guélorget-Perthuisot5 models, respectively) and unified under the concept of habitat saprobity in coastal lagoons. Saprobity is referred as to the state of an aquatic ecosystem resulting from the input and decomposition of OM and the removal of its catabolites. It provides a novel perspective to assess the impact of land-based pollution to coastal waters.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Directive
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Water Framework Directive


Lead Author:

Paolo Magni
Institute for Coastal Marine Environment of the National Research Council (IAMC-CNR)
Date of research: July 2012

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Fishing vessels interactions with other activities 

Local nutrient loads and primary production

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.