Global analysis of depletion and recovery of seabed biota after bottom trawling disturbance
Bottom trawling is the most widespread human activity affecting seabed habitats. Here, we collate all available data for experimental and comparative studies of trawling impacts on whole communities of seabed macroinvertebrates on sedimentary habitats and develop widely applicable methods to estimate depletion and recovery rates of biota after trawling. Depletion of biota and trawl penetration into the seabed are highly correlated. Otter trawls caused the least depletion, removing 6% of biota per pass and penetrating the seabed on average down to 2.4 cm, whereas hydraulic dredges caused the most depletion, removing 41% of biota and penetrating the seabed on average 16.1 cm. Median recovery times posttrawling (from 50 to 95% of unimpacted biomass) ranged between 1.9 and 6.4 y. By accounting for the effects of penetration depth, environmental variation, and uncertainty, the models explained much of the variability of depletion and recovery estimates from single studies. Coupled with large-scale, high-resolution maps of trawling frequency and habitat, our estimates of depletion and recovery rates enable the assessment of trawling impacts on unprecedented spatial scales.