Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Richard L. Wetzel


Approximately 40% of the bottom of Chesapeake Bay is less than 2.0 m in depth and many of these broad shoal environments are bordered by wetlands. The vegetated and nonvegetated subtidal and intertidal environment is a dynamic mosaic of highly productive estuarine habitats linked by the exchange of waterborne materials. This study developed simulation models of primary production and material exchange for four littoral zone habitats of the Goodwin Islands National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in lower Chesapeake Bay. Field studies were conducted to determine the sediment biogeochemical and biomass characteristics of sandy shoal, seagrass, silt-mud, and marsh habitats. Ecological models were developed for each habitat based upon their position and ecological characteristics. The models simulate the dynamics of phytoplankton, particulate and dissolved organic carbon, dissolved inorganic nitrogen, sediment microalgae, Zostera marina, and Spartina alterniflora. Following sensitivity analysis and validation the models were used to estimate annual primary production, nitrogen processes, and material exchange. The net annual rate of phytoplankton production was 66.0, sediment microalgae ranged 101-169, Zostera marina community production was approximately 350 gC m&\sp{lcub}-2{rcub}& yr&\sp{lcub}-1{rcub}&, and Spartina alterniflora shoots and root-rhizomes produced 1150 gC m&\sp{lcub}-2{rcub}& yr&\sp{lcub}-1{rcub}& (gC m&\sp{lcub}-2{rcub}& yr&\sp{lcub}-1{rcub}&). Nitrogen uptake was in excess of demand in phytoplankton while the reverse was true for the macrophytes. The marsh habitat accounted for 43% of the total annual primary production for the ecosystem despite being the smallest habitat while the largest habitat (nonvegetated subtidal) required 52% of the total ecosystem nitrogen demand. All four habitats imported phytoplankton, particulate organic carbon, and dissolved inorganic nitrogen annually. While the intertidal habitats imported dissolved organic carbon the subtidal habitats showed net annual export. These models were developed to assess ecosystem structure, function, and change in the littoral zone of Chesapeake Bay. Ecosystem structure was assessed through field research and model development. Ecosystem function was assessed by using the model to generate annual producer, habitat, and ecosystem carbon and nitrogen budgets. The model is currently being used to investigate the interactive effects of water quality, primary production, and habitat composition in order to assess potential change in the estuary.



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