We estimated the influence of planktonic and benthic grazing on phytoplankton in the strongly tidal, river-dominated northern San Francisco Estuary using data from an intensive study of the low salinity foodweb in 2006–2008 supplemented with long-term monitoring data. A drop in chlorophyll concentration in 1987 had previously been linked to grazing by the introduced clam Potamocorbula amurensis, but numerous changes in the estuary may be linked to the continued low chlorophyll. We asked whether phytoplankton continued to be suppressed by grazing and what proportion of the grazing was by benthic bivalves. A mass balance of phytoplankton biomass included estimates of primary production and grazing by microzooplankton, mesozooplankton, and clams. Grazing persistently exceeded net phytoplankton growth especially for larger cells, and grazing by microzooplankton often exceeded that by clams. A subsidy of phytoplankton from other regions roughly balanced the excess of grazing over growth. Thus, the influence of bivalve grazing on phytoplankton biomass can be understood only in the context of limits on phytoplankton growth, total grazing, and transport.
Additional publication details
Phytoplankton growth balanced by clam and zooplankton grazing and net transport into the low-salinity zone of the San Francisco Estuary