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Estuaries

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 614–621 | Cite as

The asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea) invasion and system-level ecological change in the Potomac River Estuary near Washington, D.C.

  • Harriette L. Phelps
Article

Abstract

The exotic freshwater clam speciesCorbicula fluminea (Asiatic clam) was first reported in the tidal freshwater Potomac estuary near Washington, D.C., in 1977, and was found in benthic surveys, conducted in 1978, 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1992. In 1981 a tripling of water clarity was reported in the region of the clam beds, followed in 1983 by reapperance of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) absent for 50 yr. Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has been surveyed and mapped over the entire Potomac estuary region in almost every year from 1976 to 1993 by aerial photography, as part of the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay program. Fish surveys in 1986 found populations increased up to 7× in beds of SAV. Starting in 1984, the Washington, D.C. Christmas Bird Census reported significant increases in several aquatic bird populations both nonmigratory and migratory. An extensive benthic survey in September 1986 estimated a spring-summer population of 8.7×106 kg Asiatic clams (wet weight including shell) in the 5-km region of the Potomac below Washington, D.C. This population was calculated as having the capacity to filter one-third to all of the water in this region of the estuary daily, depending on river flow. The 1986 clam population was smaller than that of 1984 and the 1992 population was 25% of that in 1986. Since 1986, SAV acreage has been decreasing in this area of the Potomac. Aquatic bird populations have declined. Yearly nuisance algae (Microcystis) blooms, which had been absent since 1983, reappeared in 1993. This paper presents evidence to support the theory the invasive Asiatic clam population in the 10 km below Washington, D.C., was responsible for SAV resurgence through filtration affecting turbidity. It suggests the clam populations triggered system-level changes in biota, including increase and decrease in local Potomac estuary populations (SAV, bird, fish, algae) over 10 yr, from 1983 to 1993. Major changes in the Asiatic clam population took place approximately 2 yr before parallel changes in SAV acreage were observed.

Keywords

Submerge Aquatic Vegetation Tidal Freshwater Asiatic Clam Clam Population Corbicula Fluminea 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harriette L. Phelps
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of the District of ColumbiaWashington, D.C.

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