, Volume 108, Issue 3, pp 349-360

Effects of periodic hypoxia on distribution of demersal fish and crustaceans

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Effects of periodic hypoxia (O2 < 2 mg l−1) on distribution of three demersal fish species, spot (Leiostomus xanthurus), hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus) and croaker (Micropogonias undulatus), and of two crustacean species, mantis shrimp (Squilla empusa) and blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), were investigated in the lower York River, Chesapeake Bay, USA. Trawl collections were made in four depth strata (5 to 10, 10 to 14, 14 to 20 and > 20 m) during normoxia and hypoxia from 26 June to 20 October 1989. Three periods with hypoxia in the bottom water (below 10 m depth) occurred in mid-July, early August and early September, each with a duration of 6 to 14 d. The demersal fish and crustaceans studied were all affected by hypoxia, and a general migration from deeper to shallower water took place during July and August. However, when oxygen conditions improved after a hypoxic event all species, exceptS. empusa, returned to the deeper areas. The degree of vertical migration was related to levels of oxygen concentration and varied for the different species.M. undulatus was the most sensitive species to low oxygen, followed byL. xanthurus andC. sapidus. T. maculatus andS. empusa were more tolerant and survived in 14 to 25% oxygen saturation by increasing ventilation rate and, forS. empusa, by also increasing blood pigment (haemocyanin) concentration. Periodic hypoxia driven by the spring-neap tidal cycle may represent a natural phenomenon with which the fishes and crustaceans are in a delicate balance. Areas experiencing periodic short-lived hypoxia may be good nursery grounds for fisheries species, and there is no indication that the habitat value in the study area of lower York River is lessened. However, if eutrophication lengthens the time of hypoxia or brings the system closer to anoxia the system may change and become characteristically stressed. The migratory and physiological responses of these species to hypoxia are good indicators of the severity of oxygen stress and could be used as part of an early warning monitoring system for changes in environmental quality.

Contribution of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Communicated by O. Kinne, Oldendorf/Luhe