Effects of Hypoxia on Fish Survival and Oyster Growth in a Highly Eutrophic Estuary
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Human land use activities around estuaries can result in high levels of eutrophication. At Elkhorn Slough estuary, a highly eutrophic California estuary, we investigated the effects of impaired water quality on two stress-tolerant estuarine species, a common fish, the staghorn sculpin, Leptocottus armatus and a foundational invertebrate, the Olympia oyster, Ostrea lurida. We caged the two indicator species at six wetlands with different levels of water quality impairment, four of which had restricted tidal flow. We also recorded water quality parameters simultaneously at all sites using YSI sondes, and sampled nutrients and chlorophyll-a monthly, building on the National Estuarine Research Reserve System-wide Monitoring Program. We found that the monitored environmental variables predicted ecological responses by the indicator species. In particular, we found that the duration and severity of hypoxia were negatively correlated with fish survival and oyster growth. Further, our results corroborate previous studies that artificial tidal restriction leads to increased hypoxia stress. We conclude that large diurnal fluctuations in dissolved oxygen and extended nighttime hypoxia can have lethal and sub-lethal effects even on stress-tolerant organisms in the estuary. While laboratory experiments have often shown such effects, it is relatively rare to demonstrate negative effects of oxygen variation with in situ experiments, which provide stakeholders with concrete evidence for impaired water quality at local wetlands. Tidally restricted sites, which experience the largest fluctuations in dissolved oxygen and longest periods of hypoxia, harbor conditions harmful to vertebrates and invertebrates in the estuary. Reversing the anthropogenically induced low oxygen levels, by restoring more natural tidal exchange and by decreasing agricultural runoff, could improve the survival and growth of important estuarine organisms.
KeywordsWater quality Oxygen Anthropogenically altered Leptocottus Ostrea
We are extremely grateful to everyone who has participated in and contributed to this research. In particular, we would like to thank staff and volunteers at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. C. Endris generously generated Fig. 1. M. Fountain assisted with collecting the fish for the study, and S. Fork provided insightful suggestions. Funding for this research was provided by grant number NA12NOS4200124 from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to the Elkhorn Slough Foundation on behalf of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.
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