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Levin, LA, Neira C, Grosholz ED.  2006.  Invasive cordgrass modifies wetland trophic function. Ecology. 87:419-432.   10.1890/04-1752   AbstractWebsite

Vascular plants strongly control belowground environments in most ecosystems. Invasion by vascular plants in coastal wetlands, and by cordgrasses (Spartina spp.) in particular, are increasing in incidence globally, with dramatic ecosystem-level consequences. We examined the trophic consequences of' invasion by a Spartina hybrid (S. alterniflora X S. foliosa) in San Francisco Bay (USA) by documenting differences in biomass and trophic structure of benthic communities between sediments invaded by Spartina and uninvaded sediments. We found the invaded system shifted from all algae-bascd to a detritus-based food web. We then tested for a relationship between diet and tolerance to invasion, hypothesizing that species that consume Spartina detritus are more likely to inhabit invaded sediments than those that consume surface algae. Infaunal diets were initially examined with natural abundance stable isotope analyses and application of mixing models, but these yielded an ambiguous picture of food sources. Therefore, we conducted isotopic enrichment experiments by providing N-15-labeled Spartina detritus both on and below the sediment surface in areas that either contained Spartina or were unvegetated. Capitellid and nereid polychaetes, and oligochaetes, groups shown to persist following Spartina invasion of San Francisco Bay tidal flats, took up N-15 from labeled native and invasive Spartina detritus. In contrast, We found that amphipods, bivalves, and other taxa less tolerant to invasion consumed primarily surficial algae, based oil C-13 enrichment experiments. Habitat (Spartina vs. unvegetated patches) and location of' detritus (on or within sediments) did not affect N-15 uptake from cletritus. Our investigations support a "trophic shift" model for ecosystem response to wetland plant invasion and preview loss of key trophic support for fishes and migratory birds by shifting dominance to species not widely consumed by species at higher trophic levels.

Levin, LA, Ekau W, Gooday AJ, Jorissen F, Middelburg JJ, Naqvi SWA, Neira C, Rabalais NN, Zhang J.  2009.  Effects of natural and human-induced hypoxia on coastal benthos. Biogeosciences. 6:2063-2098.   10.5194/bg-6-2063-2009   AbstractWebsite

Coastal hypoxia (defined here as < 1.42 ml L(-1); 62.5 mu M; 2 mg L(-1), approx. 30% oxygen saturation) develops seasonally in many estuaries, fjords, and along open coasts as a result of natural upwelling or from anthropogenic eutrophication induced by riverine nutrient inputs. Permanent hypoxia occurs naturally in some isolated seas and marine basins as well as in open slope oxygen minimum zones. Responses of benthos to hypoxia depend on the duration, predictability, and intensity of oxygen depletion and on whether H(2)S is formed. Under suboxic conditions, large mats of filamentous sulfide oxidizing bacteria cover the seabed and consume sulfide. They are hypothesized to provide a detoxified microhabitat for eukaryotic benthic communities. Calcareous foraminiferans and nematodes are particularly tolerant of low oxygen concentrations and may attain high densities and dominance, often in association with microbial mats. When oxygen is sufficient to support metazoans, small, soft-bodied invertebrates (typically annelids), often with short generation times and elaborate branchial structures, predominate. Large taxa are more sensitive than small taxa to hypoxia. Crustaceans and echinoderms are typically more sensitive to hypoxia, with lower oxygen thresholds, than annelids, sipunculans, molluscs and cnidarians. Mobile fish and shellfish will migrate away from low-oxygen areas. Within a species, early life stages may be more subject to oxygen stress than older life stages. Hypoxia alters both the structure and function of benthic communities, but effects may differ with regional hypoxia history. Human-caused hypoxia is generally linked to eutrophication, and occurs adjacent to watersheds with large populations or agricultural activities. Many occurrences are seasonal, within estuaries, fjords or enclosed seas of the North Atlantic and the NW Pacific Oceans. Benthic faunal responses, elicited at oxygen levels below 2 ml L(-1), typically involve avoidance or mortality of large species and elevated abundances of enrichment opportunists, sometimes prior to population crashes. Areas of low oxygen persist seasonally or continuously beneath upwelling regions, associated with the upper parts of oxygen minimum zones (SE Pacific, W Africa, N Indian Ocean). These have a distribution largely distinct from eutrophic areas and support a resident fauna that is adapted to survive and reproduce at oxygen concentrations < 0.5 ml L(-1). Under both natural and eutrophication-caused hypoxia there is loss of diversity, through attrition of intolerant species and elevated dominance, as well as reductions in body size. These shifts in species composition and diversity yield altered trophic structure, energy flow pathways, and corresponding ecosystem services such as production, organic matter cycling and organic C burial. Increasingly the influences of nature and humans interact to generate or exacerbate hypoxia. A warmer ocean is more stratified, holds less oxygen, and may experience greater advection of oxygen-poor source waters, making new regions subject to hypoxia. Future understanding of benthic responses to hypoxia must be established in the context of global climate change and other human influences such as overfishing, pollution, disease, habitat loss, and species invasions.

Levin, L, Gutierrez D, Rathburn A, Neira C, Sellanes J, Munoz P, Gallardo V, Salamanca M.  2002.  Benthic processes on the Peru margin: a transect across the oxygen minimum zone during the 1997-98 El Nino. Progress in Oceanography. 53:1-27.   10.1016/s0079-6611(02)00022-8   AbstractWebsite

Oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) are widespread features in the most productive regions of the world ocean. A holistic view of benthic responses to OMZ conditions will improve our ability to predict ecosystem-level consequences of climatic trends that influence oxygen availability, such as global warming or ENSO-related events. Four stations off Callao, Peru (-12'S, Station A, 305 m; Station B, 562 m; Station C, 830 nu and Station D, 1210 m) were sampled to examine the influence of the low bottom-water oxygen concentration and high organic-matter availability within the OMZ (O(2) < 0.5 ml L(-1)) on sediments, benthic communities, and bioturbation. Sampling took place during early January 1998, an intense El Ni (n) over tildeo period associated with higher-than-normal levels of O(2) on the shelf and upper slope. Peru slope sediments were highly heterogeneous. Sediment total organic carbon content exceeded 16%, lamination was present below 6 cm depth, and filamentous sulfur bacteria (Thioploca spp.) were present at Station A, (305 m, 0, < 0.02 ml L(-1)). Deeper sites contained phosphorite crusts or pellets and exhibited greater bottom-water oxygenation and lower content and quality of organic matter. X-radiographs and (210)Pb and (234)Th profiles suggested the dominance of lateral transport and bioturbation over pelagic sedimentation at the mid- and lower slope sites. Macrofauna, metazoan meiofauna and foraminifera exhibited coherence of density patterns across stations, with maximal densities (and for macrofauna, reduced diversity) at Station A, where bottom-water oxygen concentration was lowest and sediment labile organic matter content (LOC: sum of protein, carbohydrate and lipid carbon) was greatest. Metazoan and protozoan meiofaunal densities were positively correlated with sediment LOC. The taxa most tolerant of nearly anoxic, organic-rich conditions within the Peru OMZ were calcareous foraminifera, nematodes and gutless phallodrilinid (symbiont-bearing) oligochaetes. Agglutinated foraminifera, harpacticoid copepods, polychaetes and many other macrofaunal taxa increased in relative abundance below the OMZ. During the study (midpoint of the 1997-98 El Ni (n) over tildeo), the upper OMZ boundary exhibited a significant deepening (to 190 m) relative to 'normal', non-El Ni (n) over tildeo conditions (< 100 m), possibly causing a mild, transient oxygenation over the upper slope (200-300 m) and reduction of the organic particle flux to the seabed. Future sampling may determine whether the Peru margin system exhibits dynamic responses to changing ENSO-related conditions. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.