MEPS 141:67-82 (1996)  -  doi:10.3354/meps141067

Succession of macrobenthos in a created salt marsh

Levin LA, Talley D, Thayer G

Early succession of macrofauna was examined over several years in a created Spartina alterniflora marsh located on the Newport River Estuary, North Carolina, USA. Epifauna and infaunal community structure and composition were compared at 2 elevations in plots planted with S. alterniflora, plots left bare of vegetation and vegetated plots in a nearby natural S. alterniflora marsh. No significant successional differences were observed between vegetated and unvegetated sediments in the created marsh. The earliest stages of colonization involved recruitment by opportunistic estuarine polychaetes: Streblospio benedicti, Capitella spp. and Polydora cornuta. Capitella spp. dominated the macrofauna a month after marsh creation, but thereafter S. benedicti was the most abundant species. During the first few years, the artificial marsh retained early successional characteristics, with S. benedicti, Capitella spp. and turbellarians accounting for 75 to 95% of the total macrofauna. Fiddler crabs were common epifaunal colonists. After 4 yr, species richness increased and dominance by the early colonists diminished. Taxa lacking planktonic larvae and swimming adults were particularly slow to recover in the created marsh, but accounted for over 25% of the infauna by Year 4. Oligochaetes, which comprised over 50% of the fauna in the natural marsh, remained absent or rare in the artificial system throughout the study. Infaunal recovery appears to be more rapid in lower than upper marsh elevations. Although macrofaunal densities and species richness of sediments in the lower created marsh came to resemble those of the natural marsh within 6 mo, species composition and faunal feeding modes did not. These observations suggest there may be significant functional differences between young artificial marshes and older natural marshes. Consideration of the timing of marsh creation, marsh configuration, continuity with natural marshes, seeding of taxa with poor dispersal, and attention to species habitat requirements are recommended to accelerate infaunal colonization of created Spartina marshes.

Restoration · Macrofauna · Colonization · Mitigation · Community structure · Life history · Epifauna · Spartina alterniflora · Dispersal · Oligochaetes · Polychaetes · Capitella spp.

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