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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 370:19-31 (2008)  -  DOI:

Habitat change in an estuarine embayment: anthropogenic influences and a regime shift in biotic interactions

D. Pillay1,*, G. M. Branch1, A. T. Forbes2

1Marine Biology Research Institute, Zoology Department, University of Cape Town, PB X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
2School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041, South Africa

ABSTRACT: Long term-monitoring of an intertidal sandflat in Durban Bay, South Africa, indicated a major regional transformation in macrofauna between 1994 and 2002. This sandflat, known as Little Lagoon, was composed of muddy sand in 1994, but became more sandy by 2002. This change coincided with the establishment of dense beds of the burrowing sandprawn Callianassa kraussi, and a major decline in bivalve richness and density. In 1994, bottom-feeding fish dominated the ichthyofauna, with bivalve siphons dominating their diets. In 2002, however, the fish community was dominated by zooplanktivorous fish, and bivalve siphons were absent in the stomachs of benthic fish. We hypothesised that increases in C. kraussi density between 1994 and 2002 contributed to these changes in macrofauna. To test this hypothesis, macrofauna was compared between areas of high and low C. kraussi density in Little Lagoon in 2002, to determine whether pattern differences between these areas mirrored those between 1994 and 2002. Both investigations showed that C. kraussi was negatively associated with abundances of suspension feeders, deposit feeders and surface grazers, but not with burrowing infauna abundance. Densities of bivalves in particular, were significantly reduced in areas heavily bioturbated by C. kraussi. These trends have since been demonstrated experimentally, and support our hypothesis that an increase in C. kraussi density contributed to these changes to macrofauna. This long-term study also highlights the ‘ecosystem-engineering’ role of C. kraussi, and suggests that its effects ripple through higher trophic levels by reducing the abundance of food items.

KEY WORDS: Habitat change · Bioturbation · Callianassa kraussi · Bivalves · Durban Bay

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Cite this article as: Pillay D, Branch GM, Forbes AT (2008) Habitat change in an estuarine embayment: anthropogenic influences and a regime shift in biotic interactions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 370:19-31.

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