Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


The spatially complex lower Chesapeake Bay estuary is characterized by a variety of bottom types and hydrodynamic regimes. to account for this physically-induced variability a benthic habitat delineation scheme was developed based on existing knowledge of physical and geological characteristics. Within the context of this scheme a series of studies were conducted to identify biotic response to and interactions with the physical, chemical and geological gradients that characterize the lower Chesapeake Bay. These studies characterized organism distribution and abundance patterns within the lower bay and identified processes controlling those patterns. The biological community of the polyhaline basin habitat, an area characterized by moderate tidal, but little wave-induced bottom disturbance was defined and described for the first time. This community is characterized by large tube and burrow builders, epifaunal and commensal organisms, shallowly-distributed, short-lived species and deeply-dwelling predators. The basin is also the preferred habitat of overwintering blue crabs and an area where biotic sediment reworking generally exceeds physical reworking. The results of these studies suggest that within the lower Chesapeake Bay estuarine system, the relative importance of biological versus physical processes in maintaining the structure and dynamics of estuarine benthic communities will be greatest in the basin habitat.



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