Publications

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2017
Parker, EA, Rippy MA, Mehring AS, Winfrey BK, Ambrose RF, Levin LA, Grant SB.  2017.  Predictive power of clean bed filtration theory for fecal indicator bacteria removal in stormwater biofilters. Environmental Science & Technology. 51:5703-5712.   10.1021/acs.est.7b00752   AbstractWebsite

Green infrastructure (also referred to as low impact development, or LID) has the potential to transform urban stormwater runoff from an environmental threat to a valuable water resource. In this paper we focus on the removal of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB, a pollutant responsible for runoff associated inland and coastal beach closures) in stormwater biofilters (a common type of green infrastructure). Drawing on a combination of previously published and new laboratory studies of FIB removal in biofilters, we find that 66% of the variance in FIB removal rates can be explained by clean bed filtration theory (CBFT, 31%), antecedent dry period (14%), study effect (8%), biofilter age (7%), and the presence or absence of shrubs (6%). Our analysis suggests that, with the exception of shrubs, plants affect FIB removal indirectly by changing the infiltration rate, not directly by changing the FIB removal mechanisms or altering filtration rates in ways not already accounted for by CBFT. The analysis presented here represents a significant step forward in our understanding of how physicochemical theories (such as CBFT) can be melded with hydrology, engineering design, and ecology to improve the water quality benefits of green infrastructure.

2014
Nordstrom, MC, Currin CA, Talley TS, Whitcraft CR, Levin LA.  2014.  Benthic food-web succession in a developing salt marsh. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 500:43-U69.   10.3354/meps10686   AbstractWebsite

Ecological succession has long been a focal point for research, and knowledge of underlying mechanisms is required if scientists and managers are to successfully promote recovery of ecosystem function following disturbance. We addressed the influence of bottom-up processes on successional assemblage shifts in salt marshes, ecosystems with strong physical gradients, and how these shifts were reflected in the trophic characteristics of benthic fauna. We tracked the temporal development of infaunal community structure and food-web interactions in a young, created salt marsh and an adjacent natural marsh in Mission Bay, California, USA (1996-2003). Macro faunal community succession in created Spartina foliosa habitats occurred rapidly, with infaunal densities reaching 70% of those in the natural marsh after 1 yr. Community composition shifted from initial dominance of insect larvae (surface-feeding microalgivores) to increased dominance of oligo chaetes (subsurface-feeding detritivores) within the first 7 yr. Isotopic labeling of microalgae, N-2-fixing cyanobacteria, S. foliosa and bacteria revealed direct links (or absence thereof) between these basal food sources and specific consumer groups. In combination with the compositional changes in the macroinvertebrate fauna, the trophic patterns indicated an increase in food-web complexity over time, reflecting resource-driven marsh succession. Natural abundance stable isotope ratios of salt marsh consumers (infaunal and epifaunal macroinvertebrates, and fish) initially reflected distinctions in trophic structure between the created and natural marsh, but these diminished during successional development. Our findings suggest that changing resource availability is one of the important drivers of succession in benthic communities of restored wetlands in Southern California.

2010
Moseman-Valtierra, SM, Armaiz-Nolla K, Levin LA.  2010.  Wetland response to sedimentation and nitrogen loading: diversification and inhibition of nitrogen-fixing microbes. Ecological Applications. 20:1556-1568.   10.1890/08-1881.1   AbstractWebsite

Anthropogenic inputs of nutrients and sediment simultaneously impact coastal ecosystems, such as wetlands, especially during storms. Independent and combined effects of sediment and ammonium nitrate loading on nitrogen fixation rates and diversity of microbes that fix nitrogen (diazotrophs) were tested via field manipulations in Spartina foliosa and unvegetated zones at Tijuana Estuary (California, USA). This estuary is subject to episodic nitrogen enrichment and sedimentation associated with rain-driven flooding and slope instabilities, the latter of which may worsen as the Triple Border Fence is constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Responses of diazotrophs were assessed over 17 days using acetylene reduction assays and genetic fingerprinting (terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism [T-RFLP]) of nifH, which codes for dinitrogenase reductase. Sulfate-reducing bacteria performed similar to 70% of nitrogen fixation in Spartina foliosa rhizospheres in the absence of nitrogen loading, based on sodium molybdate inhibitions in the laboratory. Following nutrient additions, richness (number of T-RFs [terminal restriction fragments]) and evenness (relative T-RF fluorescence) of diazotrophs in surface sediments increased, but nitrogen fixation rates decreased significantly within 17 days. These responses illustrate, within a microbial community, conformance to a more general ecological pattern of high function among assemblages of low diversity. Diazotroph community composition (T-RF profiles) and rhizosphere diversity were not affected. Pore water ammonium concentrations were higher and more persistent for 17 days in plots receiving sediment additions (1 cm deep), suggesting that recovery of diazotroph functions may be delayed by the combination of sediment and nutrient inputs. Nitrogen fixation constitutes a mechanism for rapid transfer of fixed N to S. foliosa roots and a variety of primary consumers (within 3 and 8 days, respectively), as determined via (15)N(2) enrichment studies with in situ microcosms of intact marsh sediment. Thus, long-term declines in nitrogen fixation rates in response to increasingly frequent nutrient loading and sedimentation may potentially alter nitrogen sources for vascular plants as well as trophic pathways in wetland ecosystems.

Carson, HS, Lopez-Duarte PC, Rasmussen L, Wang DX, Levin LA.  2010.  Reproductive timing alters population connectivity in marine metapopulations. Current Biology. 20:1926-1931.   10.1016/j.cub.2010.09.057   AbstractWebsite

Populations of most marine organisms are connected by the dispersal of larval stages, with profound implications for marine conservation [1]. Because of the extreme effort needed to empirically measure larval exchange, multispecies conservation efforts must estimate connectivity by extrapolation using taxonomy, adult distribution, life history, behavior, or phenology. Using a 6-year record of connectivity realized through trace-elemental fingerprinting of larval shells, we document the seasonal and interannual variability of larval exchange for two congeneric mussel species with overlapping but distinct distribution, life history, and reproduction timing. We reveal consistent autumn poleward movement and spring equatorward movement for both species, coincident with near-shore surface currents. However, because the major reproductive seasons differ, the dominant source-sink dynamics of these two congeneric species are nearly opposite. Consideration of present and future reproductive timing as altered by climate change is crucial to marine connectivity and conservation, especially for the numerous coastal areas subject to seasonal current reversals.

2008
Whitcraft, CR, Levin LA, Talley D, Crooks JA.  2008.  Utilization of invasive tamarisk by salt marsh consumers. Oecologia. 158:259-272.   10.1007/s00442-008-1144-5   AbstractWebsite

Plant invasions of coastal wetlands are rapidly changing the structure and function of these systems globally. Alteration of litter dynamics represents one of the fundamental impacts of an invasive plant on salt marsh ecosystems. Tamarisk species (Tamarix spp.), which extensively invade terrestrial and riparian habitats, have been demonstrated to enter food webs in these ecosystems. However, the trophic impacts of the relatively new invasion of tamarisk into marine ecosystem have not been assessed. We evaluated the trophic consequences of invasion by tamarisk for detrital food chains in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve salt marsh using litter dynamics techniques and stable isotope enrichment experiments. The observations of a short residence time for tamarisk combined with relatively low C:N values indicate that tamarisk is a relatively available and labile food source. With an isotopic ((15)N) enrichment of tamarisk, we demonstrated that numerous macroinvertebrate taxonomic and trophic groups, both within and on the sediment, utilized (15)N derived from labeled tamarisk detritus. Infaunal invertebrate species that took up no or limited (15)N from labeled tamarisk (A. californica, enchytraeid oligochaetes, coleoptera larvae) occurred in lower abundance in the tamarisk-invaded environment. In contrast, species that utilized significant (15)N from the labeled tamarisk, such as psychodid insects, an exotic amphipod, and an oniscid isopod, either did not change or occurred in higher abundance. Our research supports the hypothesis that invasive species can alter the trophic structure of an environment through addition of detritus and can also potentially impact higher trophic levels by shifting dominance within the invertebrate community to species not widely consumed.

2007
Whitcraft, CR, Levin LA.  2007.  Regulation of benthic algal and animal communities by salt marsh plants: Impact of shading. Ecology. 88:904-917.   10.1890/05-2074   AbstractWebsite

Plant cover is a fundamental feature of many coastal marine and terrestrial systems and controls the structure of associated animal communities. Both natural and human-mediated changes in plant cover influence abiotic sediment properties and thus have cascading impacts on the biotic community. Using clipping ( structural) and light ( shading) manipulations in two salt marsh vegetation zones ( one dominated by Spartina foliosa and one by Salicornia virginica), we tested whether these plant species exert influence on abiotic environmental factors and examined the mechanisms by which these changes regulate the biotic community. In an unshaded ( plant and shade removal) treatment, marsh soils exhibited harsher physical properties, a microalgal community composition shift toward increased diatom dominance, and altered macrofaunal community composition with lower species richness, a larger proportion of insect larvae, and a smaller proportion of annelids, crustaceans, and oligochaetes compared to shaded ( plant removal, shade mimic) and control treatment plots. Overall, the shaded treatment plots were similar to the controls. Plant cover removal also resulted in parallel shifts in microalgal and macrofaunal isotopic signatures of the most dynamic species. This suggests that animal responses are seen mainly among microalgae grazers and may be mediated by plant modi. cation of microalgae. Results of these experiments demonstrate how light reduction by the vascular plant canopy can control salt marsh sediment communities in an arid climate. This research facilitates understanding of sequential consequences of changing salt marsh plant cover associated with climate or sea level change, habitat degradation, marsh restoration, or plant invasion.

Janousek, CN, Currin CA, Levin LA.  2007.  Succession of microphytobenthos in a restored coastal wetland. Estuaries and Coasts. 30:265-276. AbstractWebsite

Sediment microphytobenthos, such as diatoms and photosynthetic bacteria, are functionally important components of food webs and are key mediators of nutrient dynamics in marine wetlands. The medium to long-term recovery of benthic microproducers in restored habitats designed to improve degraded coastal wedand sites is largely unknown. Using taxon-specific photopigments, we describe the composition of microphytobenthic communities in a large restoration site in southern California and differences in the temporal recovery of biomass (chlorophyll a), composition, and taxonomic diversity between vegetated Spartina foliosa salt marsh and unvegetated mudflat. Visually distinct, spatially discreet, microphytobenthic patches appeared after no more than 7 mo within the restoration site and were distinguished by significant differences in biomass, taxonomic diversity, and the relative abundance of cyanobacteria versus diatoms. Sediment chlorophyll a concentrations within the restored site were similar to concentrations in nearby natural habitat 0.2-2.2 yr following marsh creation, suggesting rapid colonization by microproducers. Restored Spartina marsh very rapidly (between 0.2 and 1.2 yr) acquired microphytobenthic communities of similar composition and diversity to those in natural Spartina habitat, but restored mudflats took at least 1.6 to 2.2 yr to resemble natural mudflats. These results suggest relatively rapid recovery of microphytobenthic communities at the level of major taxonomic groups. Sediment features, such as pore water salinity and Spartina density, explained little variation in microphytobenthic taxonomic composition. Ile data imply that provision of structural heterogeneity in wedand construction (such as pools and vascular plants) might speed development of microproducer communities, but no direct seeding of sediment microfloras may be necessary.

2004
Moseman, SM, Levin LA, Currin C, Forder C.  2004.  Colonization, succession, and nutrition of macrobenthic assemblages in a restored wetland at Tijuana Estuary, California. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science. 60:755-770.   10.1016/j.ecss.2004.03.013   AbstractWebsite

Modes of colonization, the successional trajectory, and trophic recovery of a macrofaunal community were analyzed over 19 months in the Friendship marsh, a 20-acre restored wetland in Tijuana Estuary, California. Traditional techniques for quantifying macrofaunal communities were combined with emerging stable isotopic approaches for evaluation of trophic recovery, making comparisons with a nearby natural Spartina foliosa habitat. Life history-based predictions successfully identified major colonization modes, although most taxa employed a variety of tactics for colonizing the restored marsh. The presence of S.foliosa did not seem to affect macrofaunal colonization or succession at the scale of this study. However, soil organic matter content in the restored marsh was positively correlated with insect densities, and high initial salinities may have limited the success of early colonists. Total macrofaunal densities recovered to natural marsh levels after 14 months and diversity, measured as species richness and the Shannon index (H'), was comparable to the natural marsh by 19 months. Some compositional disparities between the natural and created communities persisted after 19 months, including lower percentages of surface-feeding polychaetes (Polydora spp.) and higher percentages of dipteran insects and turbellarians in the Friendship marsh. As surficial structural similarity of infaunal communities between the Friendship and natural habitat was achieved, isotopic analyses revealed a simultaneous trajectory towards recovery of trophic structure. Enriched delta(13)C signatures of benthic microalgae and infauna, observed in the restored marsh shortly after establishment compared to natural Spartina habitat, recovered after 19 months. However, the depletion in delta(15)N signatures of macrofauna in the Friendship marsh indicated consumption of microalgae, particularly nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria, while macroalgae and Spartina made a larger contribution to macrofaunal diets in the natural habitat. Future successional studies must continue to develop and employ novel combinations of techniques for evaluating structural and functional recovery of disturbed and created habitats. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2002
Levin, LA, Talley TS.  2002.  Natural and manipulated sources of heterogeneity controlling early faunal development of a salt marsh. Ecological Applications. 12:1785-1802.   10.2307/3099938   AbstractWebsite

Ecosystem recovery following wetland restoration offers exceptional opportunities to study system structure, function, and successional processes in salt marshes. This study used observations of natural variation and large-scale manipulative experiments to test the influence of vascular vegetation and soil organic matter on the rate and trajectory of macrofaunal recovery in a southern California created salt marsh, the Crown Point Mitigation Site. During the first three years following marsh establishment, macrofaunal density and species richness recovered rapidly within the Spartina foliosa (cordgrass) zone; densities in the created marsh were 50% of those in the natural marsh after 16 mo and 97% after 28 mo. However, the early successional assemblage had a lower proportion of tubificid and enchytraeid oligochaetes, and a higher proportion of chironomids and other insect larvae than did the mature natural marsh. Most of the colonizers arrived by rafting on sea grass and algae rather than by larval dispersal. Initial planting of S. foliosa had no influence on macrofaunal recovery, perhaps because of variable transplant survival. However, subsequently, both positive and negative correlations were observed between densities of some macrofaunal taxa and shoot densities of S. foliosa or Salicornia spp. (pickleweed). Salinity and measures of soil organics (belowground biomass, combustible organic matter, and chlorophyll a) also were correlated with macrofaunal densities and taxon richness. Of foul added soil amendments (kelp, alfalfa, peat, and Milorganite), Milorganite (a sewage product) and kelp both promoted macrofaunal colonization during year 1, but effects were short lived. The most significant sources of heterogeneity in the recovering marsh were associated with site history and climate variation. Faunal recovery was most rapid in highly localized, organic-rich marsh sediments that were remnants of the historical wetland. Elevated sea level during the 1998 El Nino corresponded with similarity of macrofaunal communities in the created and natural marshes. The large spatial scale and multi-year duration of this study revealed that natural sources of spatial and temporal heterogeneity may exert stronger influence on faunal succession in California wetlands than manipulation of vegetation or soil properties.