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During the past 60 years, considerable effort has been expended in studies of the relations of the biotic community and physicochemical characteristics of San Francisco Bay water. In very recent years these studies have emphasized the relations between the 'state of health' of bottom-living invertebrates (the benthos) and the levels of pollutants in the bay. Benthic organisms, generally sessile, are unable to escape deleterious environmental changes, and they reflect these changes in alterations of normal species composition of assemblages and species abundance. Data that expands understanding of these relations in urbanized areas such as San Francisco Bay are critical. Because of the implications of such data in control of water quality, the U.S. Geological Survey undertook a review of the results and major conclusions of San Francisco Bay benthic surveys.
The size and species composition of faunal assemblages are largely controlled by the salinity of the water, the texture of the bottom sediments, and locally by wastes discharged into the bay. Efforts to describe the structure and function of benthic communities of the bay and to quantify the effects of waste discharge on them have been hampered by inconsistent and often faulty sampling methodology and species identification. Studies made show a lack of information on the normal life processes of the organisms concerned. The diversity index (a mathematical expression of the number of kinds of organisms present at a location), commonly used to describe the 'health' of the benthic community, has been employed without regard for the need for standardizing methodology and species identifications or for understanding natural biological processes that affect such mathematical indices. There are few reliable quantitative data on the distribution of benthic organisms in San Francisco Bay with which future assessments of the 'health' of the benthic community might be compared. Methods for study of the benthos must be standardized, identifications of species verified by trained taxonomists, and new field and laboratory studies undertaken before we can expect to obtain an accurate description of the benthic fauna and its relations with the environment.
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A review of benthic faunal surveys in San Francisco Bay