Trophic Function in Estuaries: Response of Macrobenthos to Natural and Contaminant Gradients

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Marine Science


Trophic ecology of macrobenthic communities in estuaries of the northern Gulf of Mexico was used to infer community function, determine effects of contaminants on macrobenthos, and provide insight into community responses following disturbance. The taxa that numerically dominated the region included few large, deep-burrowing suspension feeders that typify estuaries elsewhere. This pattern is indicative of disturbance, and results in dominance by trophic groups that live near the sediment-water interface (early benthic-community succession). Trophic structure was significantly related to several sediment contaminants (especially metals, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, DDT), and three environmental gradients (salinity, depth, and sediment silt-clay content). Generally trophic diversity increased and proportion of subsurface-deposit feeders (SSDF) decreased with salinity, meaning that a more even distribution of trophic structure was found at high-salinity stations. The trophic shift toward dominance by shallow, subsurface-deposit feeders in contaminated habitats may have dire implications for fisheries. Several important commercial and recreational fisheries of the region depend on fish that feed primarily at the sediment surface. Higher proportion of subsurface-deposit feeders, coupled with low macrobenthic density in contaminated sediments, may imply that limited energy is transferred to higher trophic levels.

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Marine and Freshwater Research





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