MEPS 369:153-168 (2008)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07595

Development, biological regulation, and fate of ctenophore blooms in the York River estuary, Chesapeake Bay

Robert H. Condon1,2,*, Deborah K. Steinberg1

1Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary, 1208 Greate Rd., Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
2Present address: Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, 17 Biological Lane, Ferry Reach, St George's GE01, Bermuda

ABSTRACT: Blooms of the lobate ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi proliferate in estuaries and coastal regions worldwide. However, their role in food web structure and carbon flow between trophic levels is not fully understood. During 2003–2006, we conducted field surveys along a salinity gradient in the lower York River, a sub-estuary of the Chesapeake Bay, to determine factors controlling the timing and magnitude of M. leidyi blooms, and to evaluate effects of gelatinous zooplankton on carbon cycling. Samples for density, biovolume, and carbon content of ctenophores, scyphomedusae, and mesozooplankton were collected using surface net tows and quantified in the laboratory. Historical published records on ctenophores and physical data from regional databases were used to complement this dataset. The highest biomass of M. leidyi occurred in early summer (up to 50 mgC m–3), although blooms also appeared in winter and spring. Peaks in ctenophore biomass in the mesohaline York River occurred in May, 1 mo earlier than further downriver in the polyhaline mainstem Chesapeake Bay, likely due to higher ctenophore reproductive potential and larval dispersal upriver. Copepod biomass remained low (<10 mgC m–3) during ctenophore blooms but was not limiting for M. leidyi. Rather, high predation by Chrysaora quinquecirrha scyphomedusae on M. leidyi (scyphomedusae requirements of up to 240% of M. leidyi C d–1) appears to cause the rapid decline in summer ctenophore blooms, and we hypothesize that, subsequently, medusae become carbon-limited. Long-term trends suggest M. leidyi blooms have shifted forward 1 mo, possibly due to localized temperature increases over the past 40 yr. These results suggest that M. leidyi blooms have a pivotal, and potentially transformative, role in carbon transfer in estuarine and coastal food webs.


KEY WORDS: Mnemiopsis leidyi · Reproduction · Cydippid larvae · Scyphomedusae predation · Chrysaora quinquecirrha · Carbon cycle · Climate · York River · Chesapeake Bay


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Cite this article as: Condon RH, Steinberg DK (2008) Development, biological regulation, and fate of ctenophore blooms in the York River estuary, Chesapeake Bay. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 369:153-168. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07595

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