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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 261:63-73 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps261063

Variation in marine benthic community composition allows discrimination of multiple stressors

Hunter S. Lenihan1,4,*, Charles H. Peterson1, Stacy L. Kim2, Kathleen E. Conlan3, Russell Fairey2, Christian McDonald2, Jonathan H. Grabowski1, John S. Oliver2

1The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Institute of Marine Sciences, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
2Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 8272 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA
3Canadian Museum of Nature, PO Box 3443, Station D, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6P4, Canada
4Present address: Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

ABSTRACT: Predicting how communities respond to multiple, potentially interacting chemical stressors is inherently difficult because community structure and dynamics, the chemical properties of contaminants, and biological-chemical interactions vary with environmental conditions. Using a field experiment conducted in Antarctica, we tested whether 3 phyla of benthic soft-sediment marine invertebrates‹annelids, arthropods, and echinoderms‹respond differently to 2 common forms of contamination, organic enrichment and toxic contamination. Based on life history strategies and physiological tolerances to contaminants, we hypothesized that the principal responses of the 3 phyla would be: (1) enhanced abundance of annelids in organically enrichment sediments and (2) decreased abundance of arthropods and echinoderms in toxic metal contamination. Sediment treatments were established in the field experiment with an orthogonal combination of 3 levels of total organic carbon (TOC; 0, 1, and 2% by weight) and copper (Cu; 0, 100, and 500 µg Cu g-1 sediment), and colonization patterns were observed after 1 yr. Densities of annelids (mainly polychaetes) increased with TOC across all levels of Cu. Arthropods and echinoderms decreased with Cu, but responded variably to TOC, based largely on differences in habitat preferences exhibited by epifaunal and infaunal species. Small subsurface arthropod species (amphipods, isopods, cumaceans, and ostracods) decreased in high organic loading, due to induction of and exposure to hypoxia and hydrogen sulfide, but large surface deposit-feeding echinoderms (asteroids and echinoids) responded positively to increased carbon food supply. We present a predictive model based on assessment of benthic community structure conducted at the taxonomic level of phyla that could be used to link cause and effect for multiple chemical stressors in marine ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Antarctica · Multiple stressors · Chemical contaminants · Community response · Marine ecosystem · Organic enrichment · Invertebrates · Toxicants

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