Ecosystem Responses to Extreme Natural Events: Impacts of Three Sequential Hurricanes in Fall 1999 on Sediment Quality and Condition of Benthic Fauna in the Neuse River Estuary, North Carolina
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- Balthis, W.L., Hyland, J.L. & Bearden, D.W. Environ Monit Assess (2006) 119: 367. doi:10.1007/s10661-005-9031-6
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A study was conducted in November 1999 to assess sediment quality and condition of benthic fauna in the Neuse River Estuary (NRE), North Carolina, USA, following the passage of three Atlantic hurricanes during the two months prior. Samples for analysis of macroinfauna (>0.5 mm sieve size), chemical contamination of sediments, and other abiotic environmental variables (salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, depth, sediment granulometry) were collected at 20 sites from the mouth of the Neuse River at Pamlico Sound to approximately 90 km upstream. Results were compared to those obtained from the same area in July 1998 using similar protocols. Depressed salinity, caused by extreme rainfall and associated high freshwater flow, persisted throughout much of the estuary, which had experienced periods of water-column stratification and hypoxia of underlying waters. Fifteen of the 20 sites, representing 299 km2 (76% of the survey area), also showed signs of benthic stress based on a multi-metric benthic index of biotic integrity (B-IBI). Benthic impacts included reductions in the abundance, diversity, and numbers of species and shifts in taxonomic composition, with a notable increase in dominance of the opportunistic polychaete Mediomastus ambiseta as other former dominant species declined. There was no significant increase in the extent of chemical contamination compared to pre-hurricane conditions. Storm-related reductions in dissoved oxygen and salinity were the more likely causes of the observed benthic impacts, though it was not possible, based on these results, to separate storm effects from seasonal changes in the benthos and annual episodes of summer anoxia and hypoxia.