Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 381-397

Determining the Causes of Benthic Condition

  • Virginia D. EngleAffiliated withGulf Breeze Project Office, Biological Resources Division, National Wetlands Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey
  • , J. Kevin SummersAffiliated withGulf Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Lab, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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A benthic index for northern Gulf of Mexico estuaries has been developed and successfully validated by the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program for Estuaries (EMAP-E) in the Louisianian Province. The benthic index is a useful and valid indicator of estuarine condition that is intended to provide environmental managers with a simple tool for assessing the ecological condition of benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Associations between the benthic index and indicators of hypoxia, sediment contamination, and sediment toxicity were investigated to determine the most probable cause(s) of degraded benthic condition. The results showed that, on a local scale, the associations between the benthic index and potential environmental causes differed among estuaries. In Pensacola Bay, FL, for example, there was a significant association between the levels of toxic chemicals (e.g. DDT, silver, and TBT) in the sediment and the benthic index, especially in the bayous which have known sediment contamination problems. In Mobile Bay, however, degraded benthic communities were more closely associated with eutrophication and hypoxia. Nevertheless, a benthic index is a valuable tool for identifying areas that could be already degraded and tracking the status of environmental condition in large geographical regions.