, Volume 81, Issue 1-3, pp 175-186

Spatial Scales and Probability Based Sampling in Determining Levels of Benthic Community Degradation in the Chesapeake Bay

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Abstract

The extent of degradation of benthic communities of the Chesapeake Bay was determined by applying a previously developed benthic index of biotic integrity at three spatial scales. Allocation of sampling was probability-based allowing areal estimates of degradation with known confidence intervals. The three spatial scales were: (1) the tidal Chesapeake Bay; (2) the Elizabeth River watershed; and (3) two small tidal creeks within the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River that are part of a sediment contaminant remediation effort. The areas covered varied from 10−1 to 104 km2 and all were sampled in 1999. The Chesapeake Bay was divided into ten strata, the Elizabeth River into five strata and each of the two tidal creeks was a single stratum. The determination of the number and size of strata was based upon consideration of both managerially useful units for restoration and limitations of funding. Within each stratum 25 random locations were sampled for benthic community condition. In 1999 the percent of the benthos with poor benthic community condition for the entire Chesapeake Bay was 47% and varied from 20% at the mouth of the Bay to 72% in the Potomac River. The estimated area of benthos with poor benthic community condition for the Elizabeth River was 64% and varied from 52–92%. Both small tidal creeks had estimates of 76% of poor benthic community condition. These kinds of estimates allow environmental managers to better direct restoration efforts and evaluate progress towards restoration. Patterns of benthic community condition at smaller spatial scales may not be correctly inferred from larger spatial scales. Comparisons of patterns in benthic community condition across spatial scales, and between combinations of strata, must be cautiously interpreted.