Historical changes in the structure and functioning of the benthic community in the lagoon of Venice
One of the main challenges in environmental management is how to manage the dynamics of natural environments. In this context, having information about historical changes of the structure of the biological communities could represent a useful tool to improve management strategies, contributing to refine the policy objectives, since it gives reference states with which to compare the present. The Venice lagoon represents an interesting case study, since it is a highly dynamic, but sensitive, environment which requires the adoption of prudent management. In its recent history the lagoon ecosystem has been exposed to different kinds of disturbance, from the discharge of pollutants and nutrients, to the invasion of alien species and the exploitation of its biological resources by using highly impacting fishing gears. The analysis of available data about the macro-benthic community, from 1935 to 2004, allows the description of changes of the community structure over almost 70 years, showing a sharp decrease in its diversity. In order to obtain information about its functioning, it is necessary to know how these changes have affected processes at the community and system level. In shallow water ecosystems, as the control is mainly due to the benthic compartment, variations in the structure of the benthic community can induce modifications in processes at different hierarchical levels. The trophic structure analysis has revealed major changes during the period; from a well-assorted structure in 1935, to an herbivore-detritivore dominated one in the 1990s, and finally to a filter feeder dominated structure during the last decade. This has produced variations in the secondary production and it has induced modifications in the type of the ecosystem control. These changes are discussed in the light of the dynamics of the main driving forces.