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MEPS
Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 380:43-57 (2009)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07917

Restructuring of benthic communities in eutrophic estuaries: lower abundance of prey leads to trophic shifts from omnivory to grazing

Sophia E. Fox1,2,*, Mirta Teichberg1,3, Ylva S. Olsen1,4, Leanna Heffner1,5, Ivan Valiela1,2

1Boston University Marine Program, Marine Biological Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
2Present address: The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
3Present address: Zentrum für Marine Tropenökologie, Fahrenheitstrasse 6, 28359 Bremen, Germany
4Present address: School of Ocean Sciences, University of Bangor, Wales, Menai Bridge, Anglesey LL59 5AB, UK
5Present address: Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, 215 South Ferry Road, Narragansett, Rhode Island 02822, USA
*Email:

ABSTRACT: Anthropogenic nutrient loading to coastal waters has increased producer biomass, leading to more frequent hypoxic events particularly in estuarine systems. To examine how eutrophication and hypoxia might alter consumer assemblages, we surveyed benthic communities in 2 subestuaries of Waquoit Bay, Massachusetts, representing a eutrophic–hypoxic regime and an oligotrophic–oxic regime. The number of consumer species and abundance of organisms were lower in the eutrophic estuary. In particular, there were fewer primary consumers, mainly small crustaceans. These differences in consumer community structure also alter trophic interactions. To examine changes in food web structure that might result from lower prey abundance, we sampled organisms from the 2 sub-estuaries and determined their trophic relationships based on nitrogen stable isotope ratios. Reduced numbers of primary consumers, and hence lower prey availability, led to changes in food web linkages. Specifically, omnivores shifted their diets from an omnivorous diet that is mainly carnivorous in the oligotrophic estuary to feeding mainly as herbivores in the eutrophic estuary, where prey were scarce and macroalgae were abundant. These shifts in trophic structure may have consequences for higher trophic levels.


KEY WORDS: Eutrophication · Hypoxia · Benthic community · Crustacean · Food web · Trophic structure · Macroalgae


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Cite this article as: Fox SE, Teichberg M, Olsen YS, Heffner L, Valiela I (2009) Restructuring of benthic communities in eutrophic estuaries: lower abundance of prey leads to trophic shifts from omnivory to grazing. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 380:43-57. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07917

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