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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 326:11-27 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps326011

Influence of shallow-water habitats and shoreline development on abundance, biomass, and diversity of benthic prey and predators in Chesapeake Bay

R. D. Seitz*, R. N. Lipcius, N. H. Olmstead, M. S. Seebo, D. M. Lambert

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary, PO Box 1346, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

ABSTRACT: Within the coastal zone, waterfront development has caused severe loss of shallow-water habitats, such as salt marshes and seagrass beds. Although the effects of habitat degradation on community structure within intertidal marshes have been well studied, little is known about the impact of habitat degradation on, and the ecological value of, subtidal shallow-water habitats, despite the prevalence of these habitats in coastal ecosystems. In coastal habitats, bivalves are dominant benthic organisms that can comprise over 50% of benthic prey biomass and are indicative of benthic production. We quantified bivalve diversity, density, and biomass in deep and shallow (<1.5 m MLW) unstructured subtidal habitats in 2 tributaries of lower Chesapeake Bay (Elizabeth-Lafayette River system and York River). We also examined the effects of shoreline alteration in shallow habitats by contrasting the benthos of the subtidal areas adjacent to natural marsh, bulkhead, and rip-rap shorelines. Bivalve diversity, density, and biomass were significantly higher in shallow than in deep benthic habitats in both systems. Benthic abundance and diversity were higher in subtidal habitats adjacent to natural marsh than those adjacent to bulkhead shorelines; abundance and diversity were intermediate in rip-rap shorelines, and appeared to depend on landscape features. Predator density and diversity tended to be highest adjacent to natural marsh shorelines, and density of crabs was significantly higher in natural marsh than in bulkhead habitats. There is thus a crucial link between natural marshes, infaunal prey in subtidal habitats, and predator abundance. Consequently, the indirect effects of coastal habitat degradation upon secondary production in the shallow, subtidal habitats adjacent to salt marshes may be as great as or greater than direct habitat effects.

KEY WORDS: Shallow-water habitats · Shoreline development · Bivalves · Macoma balthica · Callinectes sapidus · Chesapeake Bay · Food web · Benthos

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