MEPS 362:59-68 (2008)  -  doi:10.3354/meps07395

Trophic interactions under stress: hypoxia enhances foraging in an estuarine food web

William Christopher Long1,2,*, Rochelle D. Seitz1

1School of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary, PO Box 1346, Gloucester Pt., Virginia 23062, USA
2Present address: Smithsonian Environmental Research Station, 647 Contees Wharf Rd., Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA

ABSTRACT: Ecosystem-level effects of stressors are critical to understanding community regulation, and environmental stress models are useful in describing such effects. Hypoxia is an important stressor in aquatic ecosystems that usually decreases abundance and biomass of benthic fauna. In field surveys, predator abundance is low in hypoxic areas, and in lab experiments, predators reduce their feeding rates under hypoxic conditions, leading to the hypothesis that consumer stress models (CSMs), rather than prey stress models (PSMs), apply to the systems. We tested predictions from these models with manipulative field experiments wherein we varied predator access to marked Macoma balthica clams at deep and shallow sites in the York River, Chesapeake Bay, before (June) and during (August) hypoxic episodes. In June, dissolved oxygen in deep and shallow sites was normoxic (>2 mg l–1) for most of the experiment. In August, the shallow zone remained normoxic, while the deep zone experienced several hypoxic episodes. During hypoxia, predation rates in hypoxic sites were more than twice those in normoxic sites, whereas mortality due to physical stress did not differ between time periods or depths. Ambient clam densities were lower at the deep sites than at the shallow sites, and in August than in June. We conclude that hypoxia increased the susceptibility of benthic prey to predation, enhancing infaunal secondary production available to predators, but concurrently reducing the resilience of the benthic community. These findings are inconsistent with the predictions of CSMs, indicating that PSMs better describe this system.

KEY WORDS: Environmental stress models · Food web · Hypoxia · Predation · Predator–prey · Macoma balthica

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Cite this article as: Long WC, Seitz RD (2008) Trophic interactions under stress: hypoxia enhances foraging in an estuarine food web. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 362:59-68

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