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Subject: LCSH

Aquatic organisms, Ecological succession


Biology | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Marine Biology


Responses to disturbance of estuarine infauna were studied to test the hypothesis that seasonality, the estuarine environmental gradient and sediment composition would significantly affect recolonization. The study was conducted in a small estuary located in southeastern Connecticut, USA, using controlled disturbance experiments and sampling of the ambient infauna. Species composition in experimental plots and ambient sediments usually did not differ, either on a seasonal or areal basis. Numerically dominant species usually included the polychaetes Streblospio benedicti, Capitella spp. and Polydora ligni, and the oligochaete Peloscolex gabriellae. Other species included the polychaetes Scoloplos fragilis, Hobsonia florida and Nereis virens, the hemichordate Saccoglossus kowaleski, and the amphipods Microdeutopus gryllotalpa and Corophium insidiosum. At times, densities of these species exceeded or were equivalent to dominant species densities in ambient sediments and experimental plots. There were usually significant differences in recolonization and ambient population dynamics due to seasonality and estuarine position. The effects of sediment composition on recolonization patterns of the various species were generally not significant. Seasonal trends in ambient and recolonization species densities were similar, with the highest responses to disturbance in the spring and summer. As ambient densities declined during the fall and winter, responses to disturbance did likewise. On an areal basis, the highest responses to disturbance occurred in the middle and upper portions of the estuary. Ambient densities followed a similar pattern, but peak densities in the early spring (May, 1979) were found in the lower portion of the estuary. Based on differences between ambient and recolonization population densities, only 1 species, Polydora ligni, exhibited a regular opportunistic response. Other species exhibited opportunistic responses, but in only 1 or 2 mo during the study. It is apparent, therefore, that species responses to disturbance were quite variable and no general pattern of recolonization could be applied to Alewife Cove with respect to seasonality and estuarine position. Due to this variation, and the historical component involved in recolonization of disturbed habitats, hypotheses correlating species responses to disturbance with life history adaptations may not be generally applicable to estuarine soft-bottom communities.


Open access after 5 years; archives posted at Inter-Research Science Center site, .

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Publisher Citation

Zajac, R. & Whitlatch, R. (1982). Responses of estuarine infauna to disturbance. I. Spatial and temporal variation of initial recolonization. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 10, 1-14.



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