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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 439:31-43 (2011)  -  DOI:

Identifying factors that influence expression of eutrophication in a central California estuary

Brent B. Hughes1,2,*, John C. Haskins1, Kerstin Wasson1,2, Elizabeth Watson1,3

1Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, Watsonville, California 95076, USA
2Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA
3ORD-NHEERL, Atlantic Ecology Division, US Environmental Protection Agency, Narragansett, Rhode Island 02882, USA

ABSTRACT: Coastal eutrophication models have proposed that various environmental conditions can serve as filters mediating the effects of nutrient loading on coastal ecosystems. Variation in such filters due to natural or anthropogenic causes can potentially lead to varied responses in overall eutrophication expression as well as in individual eutrophication indicators. In this study, we sought to identify factors that affect eutrophication expression at contrasting sites within one nutrient-loaded estuary in central California. We developed and applied a eutrophication expression index to 18 sites in the Elkhorn Slough estuary and then used principal components analysis of environmental drivers (nutrients) and filters to determine how they relate to overall eutrophication expression as well as to individual eutrophication indicators. We also examined the relationship between one key filter, tidal range, and eutrophication indicators. Elkhorn Slough was determined to be a moderately eutrophic estuary, with individual sites varying from being low to hypereutrophic. Eutrophication expression was explained mostly by tidal range, depth, temperature, salinity, distance to estuary mouth, and turbidity, but not by nutrient concentrations. Tidal range in particular correlated strongly with most eutrophication indicators. Sites with artificially dampened tidal range through water control structures were more eutrophic than sites with full tidal exchange. Results from this study emphasize the importance of filters in mediating the negative ecological effects of eutrophication. Coastal managers can decrease eutrophication expression at a local scale by managing for filters (e.g. increasing tidal exchange to managed wetlands), complementing efforts to reduce eutrophication at a regional scale by decreasing nutrient loading.

KEY WORDS: Eutrophication · Elkhorn Slough · Hypoxia · Environmental filters · Tidal range · Ulva · Chl a

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Cite this article as: Hughes BB, Haskins JC, Wasson K, Watson E (2011) Identifying factors that influence expression of eutrophication in a central California estuary. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 439:31-43.

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