Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Marine Ecology Progress Series



First Page


Last Page



Large-scale research on the environmental, biological, and anthropogenic drivers of fish distributions, abundances, and community structure can identify patterns and trends within systems, provide mechanistic insight into ecosystem functioning, and contribute to ecosystembased fisheries management. This study synthesized 10 yr of extensive fisheries-independent bottom trawl data (2002 to 2011) to evaluate drivers of demersal fish community structure in Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Changes in community composition were assessed using constrained correspondence analysis. Also, aggregate community metrics (species richness, Simpson diversity, and catch-per-unit-effort [CPUE] of species groups) were modeled using generalized additive models. Five species (Atlantic croaker, white perch, spot, striped bass, and summer flounder) accounted for >75% of the total trawled biomass. The demersal fish community was primarily structured by the latitudinal salinity gradient that largely differentiated anadromous fishes from coastal shelf spawning species and elasmobranchs, with low overall CPUE and richness in mesohaline waters. Low dissolved oxygen concentrations (below ~4 mg l−1) greatly suppressed CPUE and diversity metrics and appeared to displace fish biomass toward the northern and southern edges of the bay’s mainstem channel. Water temperature and month strongly influenced the seasonal dynamics of community composition and metrics. Community composition and biomass shifted after 2007, with a substantial decline in annual CPUE of some species groups. Recruitment and fishing indices for the dominant species were the best predictors of the interannual patterns in community metrics, outperforming various other climatic and biological annual-scale covariates.


doi: 10.3354/meps10253


Community structure · Demersal fishes · Chesapeake Bay · Environmental conditions · Species richness · Species diversity · Hypoxia · Bottom trawl survey