Since the 1960 s, there has been a rapid expansion of drilling activities in the central and northern Adriatic Sea to meet the increasing global energy demand. The discharges of organic and inorganic pollutants, as well as the alteration of the sediment substrate, are among the main impacts associated with these activities. In the present study, we evaluate the response of benthic foraminifera to the activities of three gas platforms in the northwestern Adriatic Sea, with a special focus on the Armida A platform for which extensive geochemical data (organic matter, trace elements, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, other hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds) are available. The response to disturbance is assessed by analyzing the foraminiferal diversity using the traditional morphology-based approach and by 18S rDNA-based metabarcoding. The two methods give congruent results, showing relatively lower foraminiferal diversity and higher dominance values at stations closer to the platforms (<50 m). The taxonomic compositions of the morphological and metabarcoding datasets are very different, the latter being dominated by monothalamous, mainly soft-walled species. However, compositional changes consistently occur at 50 m from the platform and can be related to variations in sediment grain-size variation and higher concentrations of Ni, Zn, Ba, hydrocarbons and total organic carbon. Additionally, several morphospecies and Molecular Operational Taxonomic Units (MOTUs) show strong correlations with distance from the platform and with environmental parameters extracted from BIOENV analysis. Some of these MOTUs have the potential to become new bioindicators, complementing the assemblage of hard-shelled foraminiferal species detected through microscopic analyses. The congruence and complementarity between metabarcoding and morphological approaches support the application of foraminiferal metabarcoding in routine biomonitoring surveys as a reliable, time- and cost-effective methodology to assess the environmental impacts of marine industries.
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