, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 531-540

Distribution and abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay: An historical perspective

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Abstract

An historical summary of the distribution and abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Chesapeake Bay is presented. Evidence suggests that SAV has generally been common throughout the bay over the last several hundred years with several fluctuations in abundance. The decline ofZostera marina (eelgrass) in the 1930’s and the rapid expansion ofMyriophyllum spicatum (watermilfoil) in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s were two significant events involving a single species. Since 1965, however, there has been a significant reduction of all species in most sections of the bay. Declines were first observed in the Patuxent, Potomac and sections of other rivers in the Maryland portion of the Bay between 1965 and 1970. Dramatic reductions were observed over the entire length of the bay from 1970 to 1975. Particularly severe losses were observed at the head of the bay around Susquehanna Flats as well as in numerous rivers along Maryland’s eastern and western shores. Changes in the lower, Virginia portion of the bay occurred primarily in the western tributaries. Greatest losses of vegetation occurred in the years following Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972. Since 1975 little regrowth has been observed in the Chesapeake Bay. Other areas along the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. during the same period have experienced no similar widespread decline. It thus appears that the factors affecting the recent changes in distribution and abundance of submerged vegetation in the bay are regional in nature. Causes for this decline may be related to changes in water quality, primarily increased eutrophication and turbidity.

Contribution No. 1187 from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine Science, Gloucester Point, Virginia.