Results from multi-year investigations in the San Francisco Bay estuary show that large abundance fluctuations within benthic macroinvertebrate populations reflect both (1) within-year periodicity of reproduction, recruitment, and mortality that is not necessarily coincident with seasonal changes of the environment (e.g., the annual temperature cycle), and (2) aperiodic density changes (often larger than within-year fluctuations) following random perturbations of the environment. Density peaks of the small, short-lived estuarine invertebrates that comprise the vast majority of individuals in the bay's relatively homogeneous benthic community normally occur between spring and autumn depending on the species, in large part a reflection of reproductive periodicity. However, because mild winters permit reproductive activity in some of the common species throughout much of the year, other factors are important to within-year density fluctuations in the community. Seasonally predictable changes in freshwater inflow, wind and tidal mixing, microalgal biomass, and sediment erosion/deposition patterns all contribute to observed seasonal changes in abundance. For example, the commonly observed decline in abundance during winter reflects both short-lived species that die after reproducing and the stress of winter conditions (e.g., inundation by less saline, sediment-laden water and the decline in both planktonic and benthic algal biomass - a direct source of food for the shallow-water benthos). On the other hand, data from several studies suggest that observed 'recruitment' and 'mortality' may in fact be the migration of juveniles and adults to and from study sites. For example, the common amphipod Ampelisca abdita apparently moves from shallow to deep water, or from up-estuary to down-estuary locations, coincident with periods of high river runoff in winter. Growth of individuals within the few studied species populations is also highly seasonal, and appears to be coincident with seasonal increases in the abundance of planktonic and/or benthic microalgae. Two multi-year studies have shown that, in addition to within-year periodicity, major restructuring of the benthic community can occur as a result of anomalous (usually climate-related) perturbations of the benthic habitat. For example, during wet years freshwater-intolerant species disappear from the upper part of the estuary and from shallow areas of the bay. During a two-year drought these same species colonized the extreme upper end of the estuary in large numbers. Other aperiodic perturbations include localized instances of sediment erosion or deposition and algal mat accumulations that greatly depress abundance. Additionally, there is evidence (observations that the clam Macoma balthica establishes large populations only when the amphipod A. abdita is not abundant) that species interactions can contribute greatly to interannual variations. Thus, while community composition may change little over the long term, year-to-year predictability of species abundances is low. ?? 1985 Dr W. Junk Publishers.
Additional publication details
Time scales of change in the San Francisco Bay benthos