MEPS 303:1-29 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps303001

Eutrophication of Chesapeake Bay: historical trends and ecological interactions

W. M. Kemp1, *, W. R. Boynton2, J. E. Adolf1, D. F. Boesch3, W. C. Boicourt1, G. Brush4, J. C. Cornwell1, T. R. Fisher1, P. M. Glibert1, J. D. Hagy5, L. W. Harding1, E. D. Houde2, D. G. Kimmel1, W. D. Miller1, R. I. E. Newell1, M. R. Roman1, E. M. Smith6, J. C. Stevenson1

1University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, Cambridge, Maryland 21613, USA
2University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, Solomons, Maryland 20688, USA
3University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Cambridge, Maryland 21613, USA
4Johns Hopkins University, Department of Geography & Environmental Engineering, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA
5U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NHEERL, Gulf Ecology Division, Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561, USA
6University of South Carolina, Department of Biology, Columbia, South Carolina 29208, USA

ABSTRACT: This review provides an integrated synthesis with timelines and evaluations of ecological responses to eutrophication in Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the USA. Analyses of dated sediment cores reveal initial evidence of organic enrichment in ~200 yr old strata, while signs of increased phytoplankton and decreased water clarity first appeared ~100 yr ago. Severe, recurring deep-water hypoxia and loss of diverse submersed vascular plants were first evident in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. The degradation of these benthic habitats has contributed to declines in benthic macroinfauna in deep mesohaline regions of the Bay and blue crabs in shallow polyhaline areas. In contrast, copepods, which are heavily consumed in pelagic food chains, are relatively unaffected by nutrient-induced changes in phytoplankton. Intense mortality associated with fisheries and disease have caused a dramatic decline in eastern oyster stocks and associated Bay water filtration, which may have exacerbated eutrophication effects on phytoplankton and water clarity. Extensive tidal marshes, which have served as effective nutrient buffers along the Bay margins, are now being lost with rising sea level. Although the Bay’s overall fisheries production has probably not been affected by eutrophication, decreases in the relative contribution of demersal fish and in the efficiency with which primary production is transferred to harvest suggest fundamental shifts in trophic and habitat structures. Bay ecosystem responses to changes in nutrient loading are complicated by non-linear feedback mechanisms, including particle trapping and binding by benthic plants that increase water clarity, and by oxygen effects on benthic nutrient recycling efficiency. Observations in Bay tributaries undergoing recent reductions in nutrient input indicate relatively rapid recovery of some ecosystem functions but lags in the response of others.

KEY WORDS: Eutrophication · Nutrients · Chesapeake Bay

Full text in pdf format