Microalgal productivity, community composition, and pelagic food web dynamics in a subtropical, turbid salt marsh isolated from freshwater inflow Academic Article uri icon


  • Carbon entering the food web originating from microalgal productivity may be as important to salt marsh consumers as carbon originating from vascular plant production. The objective of this study was to further our understanding of the role played by microalgae in salt marshes. We focused on microalgal productivity, community dynamics, and pelagic food web linkages. Across three consecutive springs (2001-2003), we sampled the upper Nueces Delta in southeast Texas, United States; a shallow, turbid system of ponds and elevated vegetated areas stressed by low freshwater inflow and salinities ranging from brackish (11) to hypersaline (300). Despite high turbidity and low external nutrient loadings, microalgal productivity was on the order of that reported for vascular plants. Primary productivity in surface waters ranged from O to 2.02 g C m -2 d-1 and was usually higher than primary productivity associated with the benthos, which ranged from O to 1.14 g C m-2 d-1. This was likely due to high amounts of wind-driven resuspended sediment limiting production at greater depths. Most of the water column microalgal biovolume seemed to originate from the benthos and was comprised mostly of pennate diatoms. But true phytoplankton taxa were also observed, which included cryptomonads, chlorophyhtes, dinoflagellates, and cyanobacteria. Succession from r-selected to K-selected taxa with the progression of spring, a common phenomena in aquatic systems, was not observed. Codominance by both potentially edible and less edible taxa was found. This was likely due to decreased grazing pressure on r-selected taxa as salinity conditions became unfavorable for grazers. In addition to a decoupled food web, reduced primary and net productivity, community respiration, and microalgal and zooplankton population densities were all observed at extreme salinities. Our findings suggest that a more accurate paradigm of salt marsh functioning within the landscape must account for microalgal productivity as well as production by vascular plants. Because the value of microalgal productivity to higher trophic levels is taxa specific, the factors that govern microalgal community structure and dynamics must also be accounted for. In the case for the Nueces Delta, these factors included wind mixing and increasing salinities. 2005 Estuarine Research Federation.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Fejes, E., Roelke, D., Gable, G., Heilman, J., McInnes, K., & Zuberer, D.

citation count

  • 14

complete list of authors

  • Fejes, E||Roelke, D||Gable, G||Heilman, J||McInnes, K||Zuberer, D

publication date

  • February 2005