Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Rochelle D. Seitz


Cultural eutrophication (CE) is the allochthonous input introduction of a quantity of matter, such as sediments, organic material, or nutrients, into a water body over the pre-anthropogenic (natural) levels. In most coastal estuaries CE has come to refer primarily to an increase in the concentration of phyto-nutrients. CE has been identified as the cause of very graphic phenomena such as hypoxia and fish kills. In this work I examine the potential for CE to alter the composition of the primary producer community and potentially alter or disrupt the benthic food web, using Macoma balthica as an indicator species. A series of surveys and experiments identified that clams in areas with greater than average nutrient concentrations had lower health, slower growth, and greater non-predatory mortality than clams in less eutrophic areas. Primary production, as estimated from chlorophyll a concentration, was greater at higher nutrient locations while the health and growth of clams was lower. The phytoplankton community in the more eutrophic areas had a lower proportion of diatoms relative to dinoflagellates. A biochemical analysis of clam tissue indicated that the clams from the less nutrient rich sites had a greater proportion of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) relative to other fatty acids. Diatoms are rich in EPA compared to dinoflagellates. Thus, we hypothesize that CE induced shifts from diatom based production toward dinoflagellates may be limiting trophic transfer due to a lack of EPA. Using a series of models we were able to predict that trophic disruption could significantly reduce the scope for growth of the blue crab, Callenecties sapidus . Thus it is possible that the CE induced changes to primary producer community could disrupt the food web creating a trophic bottleneck.



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