Acute Effects of Drought on Emergent and Aquatic Communities in a Brackish Marsh Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • © Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2013. Plants and animals in brackish marshes are adapted to live within a wide, yet finite, range of conditions. Events that shift the environmental state beyond that range can dramatically alter habitats and, potentially, the numerous ecosystemservices they provide. A prolonged exceptional drought in Texas (October 2010-January 2012) provided a unique opportunity to understand how brackish wetland habitats respond to an extreme environmental event. We examined marshes in the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area (Texas, USA) that fell within the drought affected area, including restored areas and an adjacent reference marsh. To test our hypothesis that the brackish marsh community would be sensitive to drought conditions, we quantified emergent plant and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and animal (invertebrates, fish) characteristics in summer 2010 and 2011. In spite of its severity, the exceptional drought of 2011 did not have a negative impact on emergent plant communities: biomass, stem density, and chlorophyll a concentrations were the same in pre-drought and drought years in all restored and reference areas. In contrast, SAV biomass was reduced by up to 100 % in the drought year. Some fish and invertebrate densities were also reduced by an order of magnitude or more, possibly due to the loss of SAV. Aquatic faunal species composition was markedly different in the drought year, largely due to the loss of the hydrobiid snail Probythinella protera and the gain of some marine species, including Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus), brown shrimp (Farfantepenaeus aztecus), and white shrimp (Litopenaeus setiferus). By altering aquatic the plant and animal community, this drought event may subsequently reduce trophic support for higher consumers, or contribute to a decline in water quality. Restoration monitoring programs that only focus on relatively stress-resistant, emergent wetland plant communities may underestimate the sensitivity of these ecosystems to extreme environmental events like droughts.

author list (cited authors)

  • Kinney, E. L., Quigg, A., & Armitage, A. R.

citation count

  • 9

publication date

  • October 2013