Ecosystem modelling of the data-limited, oligotropic KwaZulu-Natal Bight, South Africa.
Ecosystem modelling allows for an understanding of the structure and functioning of ecosystems. During this study, the oligotrophic KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Bight, a data-limited system on the east coast of South Africa, was modelled. A framework for modelling data-poor systems, incorporating the construction of multiple models, sensitivity analyses and comparative analyses was applied to the Bight using literature data. Models converged on general trends of ecosystem functioning showing 99% of flows originated from detritus, primarily imported from rivers. The largest source of riverine detritus is the Thukela River which flows into the central Bight. This area supports a shallow-water prawn trawl fishery which targets penaeid prawns. Fisheries time series‘ were incorporated into the model framework to study the effects of prawn trawling and the decrease in prawn recruitment, caused by estuarine nursery loss, on the central Bight ecosystem. Dynamic simulations suggest the biomass of biotic groups were more affected by prawn recruitment level than trawling effort level. To understand the importance of nutrients in more detail, nutrient content, biomass and stoichiometric ratios were documented for various pelagic and demersal functional groups, and compared between areas in this oligotrophic system. Results showed the central Bight had the highest carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus biomasses, due to riverine nutrient sources, and the southern Bight had the lowest. In addition, the demersal community had higher biomasses than the pelagic community for all nutrients. Nutrient dynamics and limitations within the Bight were explored through the construction and analysis of trophic flow networks of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus for the southern, central and northern Bight. Network analyses suggest nutrient cycling was lowest in the central Bight, and highest in the southern Bight. Cycling of nitrogen was highest in all areas due to the dominance of benthos, in terms of biomass, which was nitrogen-limited. Higher trophic levels were found to be phosphorus-limited. However many pelagic groups were co-limited by nitrogen and phosphorus, probably due to the oligotrophic nature of the bight. This suite of ecosystem models provides the first holistic view of the KZN Bight and an understanding of ecosystem functioning in the southern, central and northern Bight.
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