MEPS 500:43-55 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10686

Benthic food-web succession in a developing salt marsh

Marie C. Nordström1,6,*, Carolyn A. Currin2, Theresa S. Talley3, Christine R. Whitcraft4, Lisa A. Levin1,5

1Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0218, USA
2Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, National Ocean Service, NOAA, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
3California Sea Grant Extension Program, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0218, USA
4California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, California 90840, USA
5Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0218, USA
6Present address: Åbo Akademi University, Department of Biosciences, Environmental and Marine Biology, Artillerigatan 6,
20520 Åbo, Finland
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Ecological succession has long been a focal point for research, and knowledge of underlying mechanisms is required if scientists and managers are to successfully promote recovery of ecosystem function following disturbance. We addressed the influence of bottom-up processes on successional assemblage shifts in salt marshes, ecosystems with strong physical gradients, and how these shifts were reflected in the trophic characteristics of benthic fauna. We tracked the temporal development of infaunal community structure and food-web interactions in a young, created salt marsh and an adjacent natural marsh in Mission Bay, California, USA (1996-2003). Macrofaunal community succession in created Spartina foliosa habitats occurred rapidly, with infaunal densities reaching 70% of those in the natural marsh after 1 yr. Community composition shifted from initial dominance of insect larvae (surface-feeding microalgivores) to increased dominance of oligochaetes (subsurface-feeding detritivores) within the first 7 yr. Isotopic labeling of microalgae, N2-fixing cyanobacteria, S. foliosa and bacteria revealed direct links (or absence thereof) between these basal food sources and specific consumer groups. In combination with the compositional changes in the macroinvertebrate fauna, the trophic patterns indicated an increase in food-web complexity over time, reflecting resource-driven marsh succession. Natural abundance stable isotope ratios of salt marsh consumers (infaunal and epifaunal macroinvertebrates, and fish) initially reflected distinctions in trophic structure between the created and natural marsh, but these diminished during successional development. Our findings suggest that changing resource availability is one of the important drivers of succession in benthic communities of restored wetlands in Southern California.


KEY WORDS: Infauna · Recovery · Resource availability · Spartina · Tidal marsh · Trophic relationships


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Cite this article as: Nordström MC, Currin CA, Talley TS, Whitcraft CR, Levin LA (2014) Benthic food-web succession in a developing salt marsh. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 500:43-55. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10686

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