Publications

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2007
Neira, C, Levin LA, Grosholz ED, Mendoza G.  2007.  Influence of invasive Spartina growth stages on associated macrofaunal communities. Biological Invasions. 9:975-993.   10.1007/s10530-007-9097-x   AbstractWebsite

In coastal wetlands, invasive plants often act as ecosystem engineers altering flow, light and sediments which, in turn, can affect benthic animal communities. However, the degree of influence of the engineer will vary significantly as it grows, matures and senesces, and surprisingly little is known about how the influence of an ecosystem engineer varies with ontogeny. We address this issue on the tidal flats of San Francisco Bay where hybrid Spartina (foliosa x alterniflora) invaded 30 years ago. The invasion has altered the physico-chemical properties of the sediment habitat, which we predicted should cause changes in macrofaunal community structure and function. Through mensurative and manipulative approaches we investigated the influence of different growth stages of hybrid Spartina on macrobenthos and the underlying mechanisms. Cross-elevation sampling transects were established covering 5 zones (or stages) of the invasion, running from the tidal flat (pre-invasion) to an unvegetated dieback zone. Additionally, we experimentally removed aboveground plant structure in the mature (inner) marsh to mimic the 'unvegetated areas'. Our results revealed four distinct faunal assemblages, which reflected Spartina-induced changes in the corresponding habitat properties along an elevation gradient: a pre-invaded tidal flat, a leading edge of immature invasion, a center of mature invasion, and a senescing dieback area. These stages of hybrid Spartina invasion were accompanied by a substantial reduction in macrofaunal species richness and an increase in dominance, as well as a strong shift in feeding modes, from surface microalgal feeders to subsurface detritus/Spartina feeders (mainly tubificid oligochaetes and capitellid polychaetes). Knowledge of the varying influence of plant invaders on the sediment ecosystem during different phases of invasion is critical for management of coastal wetlands.

2006
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.

Neira, C, Grosholz ED, Levin LA, Blake R.  2006.  Mechanisms generating modification of benthos following tidal flat invasion by a Spartina hybrid. Ecological Applications. 16:1391-1404.   10.1890/1051-0761(2006)016[1391:mgmobf]2.0.co;2   AbstractWebsite

Many coastal habitats are being substantially altered by introduced plants. In San Francisco Bay,, California, USA, a hybrid form of the eastern cordgrass Spartina alterniflora is rapidly invading open mudflats in southern and central sections of the Bay, altering habitat, reducing macrofaunal densities, and shifting species composition. The invasion has resulted in significant losses of surface-feeding amphipods, bivalves, and cirratulid polychaetes, while subsurface feeding groups such as tubificid oligochaetes and capitellid polychaetes have been unaffected. In the present paper, we document the causes and mechanisms underlying the changes observed. Through a series of in situ manipulative experiments we examined the influence of hybrid Spartina canopy on a range of physical, chemical, and biological properties. The hybrid Spartina canopy exerted a strong influence on. the hydrodynamic regime, triggering a series of physical, chemical, and biological changes in the benthic system. Relative to tidal flats, water velocity was reduced in hybrid patches, promoting deposition of fine-grained, organic-rich particles. The resulting changes in the sediment environment included increased porewater sulfide concentrations and anoxia, which led to poor survivorship. of surface feeders such as, bivalves, amphipods, and polychaetes. These are key taxa that support higher trophic levels including migratory shorebirds that feed on tidal flats. Altered flow in the Spartina canopy further contributed to changes in barnacle recruitment and resuspension of adult benthic invertebrates. Increased crab-induced predation pressure associated with Spartina invasion also contributed to changes in benthic invertebrate communities. Our results suggest that multiple physical, chemical, biotic, and trophic impacts of the Spartina invasion have resulted in substantial changes in benthic communities that are likely to have important effects on the entire ecosystem.

2005
Neira, C, Levin LA, Grosholz ED.  2005.  Benthic macrofaunal communities of three sites in San Francisco Bay invaded by hybrid Spartina, with comparison to uninvaded habitats. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. 292:111-126.   10.3354/meps292111   AbstractWebsite

A hybrid cordgrass, formed from a cross between Spartina alterniflora (Atlantic cordgrass) and S. foliosa (Pacific cordgrass), has recently spread within the intertidal zone of south San Francisco Bay. Sediment properties and macroinfaunal community structure were compared in patches invaded by Spartina hybrid and adjacent uninvaded patches at 3 sites in San Francisco Bay (2 tidal flats and 1 Salicornia marsh). We hypothesized that (1) sediments vegetated by Spartina hybrid would have reduced sediment grain size, higher organic matter content, lower redox potential, lower salinity and reduced microalgal biomass relative to adjacent unvegetated tidal flat sediments, and (2) that differences in the sediment environment would correspond to changes in the infaunal invertebrate community structure and feeding modes. We observed 75 % lower total macro-faunal density and lower species richness in Spartina-vegetated sediments at Elsie Roemer (30 yr old invasion) than in an adjacent unvegetated tidal flat. This was due to lower densities of surface-feeding amphipods, bivalves, cirratulid and spionid polychaetes. The proportional representation of subsurface-deposit feeders was greater in Spartina patches than in unvegetated sediments. At a more recently invaded site (Roberts Landing; 15 yr invasion), Spartina patches differed from tidal flat sediments in composition, but not in abundance. Native (Salicornia) and Spartina patches exhibited similar sediment properties at San Mateo, where the Spartina hybrid invaded 8 to 10 yr earlier. No differences were detected in densities or proportions of surface- or subsurface-deposit feeders, but the proportion of carnivores/omnivores and grazers increased in the hybrid-invaded patches. These studies suggest that the invasive Spartina hybrid in south San Francisco Bay can have differing effects on sediment ecosystems, possibly depending on the location, age, or type of habitats involved.