Marine Biology

, Volume 116, Issue 3, pp 507–518

Abundance biomass comparison (ABC method): effects of an estuarine gradient, anoxic/hypoxic events and contaminated sediments


  • D. M. Dauer
    • Department of Biological SciencesOld Dominion University
  • M. W. Luckenbach
    • Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceCollege of William and Mary
  • A. J. RodiJr.
    • Department of Biological SciencesOld Dominion University

DOI: 10.1007/BF00350068

Cite this article as:
Dauer, D.M., Luckenbach, M.W. & Rodi, A.J. Marine Biology (1993) 116: 507. doi:10.1007/BF00350068


The ABC method for evaluating pollution-induced stress was tested using data from the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, collected between 1985 and 1989. Three predictions were tested: (1) benthic communities from estuarine transitional regions with salinities near the range of 5 to 8 parts per thousand (horohalinicium) should be classified highly stressed due to major shifts in ionic composition producing physiological stress; (2) benthic communities from regions subjected to summer low dissolved oxygen conditions (anoxia or hypoxia) should be classified as highly stressed after such events; and (3) benthic communities from sediments contaminated with heavy metals and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons should be classified as highly stressed. Only partial support for each of these predictions was found and several problems with the ABC method were obvious. A small number of large-sized species, particularly in mesohaline and polyhaline regions of the estuary, greatly affected the analysis. Similar designations of stress could be produced by simply sampling only for these rare, large species. Regions of the estuary considered a priori as highly stressed were sometimes designated as unstressed due to (1) minor shifts in dominance patterns in benthic communities with low absolute numbers of individuals and biomass, e.g. in regions affected by anoxia/hypoxia, and (2) collection of rare, but large species, such as the tubiculous polychaete, Diopatra cuprea, in contaminated sediments. Regions of the estuary considered a priori as unstressed were sometimes designated as highly stressed due to dense recruitment events. Contrary to assumptions of the ABC method, increased sample size (replication) may result in the collection of rare, large-sized individuals in highly stressed communities. Partial dominance curves were applied to the data and (1) removed the effect of biomass dominants in contaminated sediments changing the classification of communities from unstressed to stressed, (2) did not change the stressed classification due to dense recruitment events, and (3) changed the classification of mesohaline and polyhaline communities from unstressed to stressed, even in the absence of low dissolved oxygen events or contaminated sediments. No single method or analysis is likely to produce stress classifications without unacceptable misclassifications. We propose that ecological stress, from any source, is best measured using multiple methods or analyses with different assumptions. The consistency of classification between different approaches would provide the robustness necessary to judge the reliability of a stress classification.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993