Master of Science (M.Sc.)
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Recently, there has been an expansion of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the tidal fresh and oligohaline portions of lower Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Much like the resurgence seen in the Potomac in the 1980’s, this spread of SAV in Virginia systems such as the Mattaponi, Pamunkey and Chickahominy seems to have been initiated by the introduction and spread of the invasive species Hydrilla verticillata, and appears to have been rapid. However the resurgence in the Piankatank has occurred in the absence of the introduction of this species. The factors that are influencing the growth of SAV in these tributary environments, including water quality and habitat conditions as well as the potential for interspecific competition between H. verticillata and the other SAV species in these regions are not well known. Annual aerial mapping surveys of the Chickahominy River were used alongside historical water quality data to investigate the patterns and rates of SAV bed development, and the relationships between this development and water quality conditions. Field investigations were performed in order to better understand the seasonal community dynamics relative to water quality conditions and interspecific competition. Historical analysis, field monitoring and field experimentation all showed salinity and turbidity to be the main factors controlling SAV abundance and species distribution along the Chickahominy River. Historical analysis of the Chickahominy River revealed a decline in SAV abundance in 2002, which corresponded with seasonal mean salinities of 4.1 psu. SAV abundance from 1998-2007 showed a significant correlation with vegetation emergence period secchi depth, in which secchi depths of 0.3 meters, the lowest of the time period, occurred during the 2002 SAV decline. Field data showed species zonation, in which H. verticillata was the overall dominant species, but was limited to the upper portion of the river where salinity intrusion remained below 2 psu throughout the growing season. Najas minor was dominant in the lower portion of the river where salinities reached over 4 psu in October. Salinity was the best predictor for H. verticillata’s biomass difference between the upper and lower river. SAV in the Chickahominy was able to grow in a wide range of conditions, with total suspended solids and chlorophyll a concentrations at times greater than 20 mg l-1 and 40 μg l-1, respectively, and sediment organic content ranging from less than 1% to greater than 25%. Comparisons with the Mattaponi and Piankatank rivers revealed ideal habitat for H. verticillata growth in the Mattaponi, where salinities along the vegetated reach of the upper river did not extend above 1 psu. On the other hand, this species was not found growing in the Piankatank, where salinities in the very upper portion of the river reached 3.5 psu. Finally, a field species removal experiment demonstrated that environmental conditions rather than interspecific competition were most important in determining plant performance, as both H. verticillata and N. minor exhibited poor growth in the lower river site, which had higher salinity and turbidity levels than the upper river site.
© The Author
Shields, Erin C., "Influences of Habitat Conditions on Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Development in the Chickahominy River and Other Virginia Tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay" (2008). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. Paper 1539617869.