Seasonal variation, export dynamics and consumption of freshwater invertebrates in an estuarine environment
Authors: Williams, DD., Williams, NE.,
Year of publication:1998
Journal: Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science, , Volume: 46(3), Pages: 393-410.
Publisher: Academic Press Ltd
In the Aber Estuary, North Wales, significant numbers of freshwater benthic invertebrates occurred in the tidal freshwater area. Distinct seasonal patterns were observed in their longitudinal zonation which appeared to be unrelated to variations in tidal inundation. The December extension downstream of freshwater taxa is hypothesized to be in response to decreasing water temperatures. In April, larvae/nymphs of the Trichoptera (caddisflies), Ephemeroptera (mayflies) and Plecoptera (stoneflies) ranged as far as a site inundated by 80.9% of all high tides, and larval Elmidae and Chironomidae (midges) occurred at the most marine site (inundated twice daily by all high tides). In July, with the exception of the Chironomidae, the range of most aquatic insects had contracted to the upper estuary. Although, in general, densities of aquatic insects decreased towards the lower estuary, significant densities persisted there. For example, maxima of 3514 chironomid larvae and 48 caddisfly larvae m(-2) were recorded at the 80.9% inundation site. An estimated 31 x 10(6) freshwater invertebrates (weighing 62.6 kg), per annum, passed from fresh water into salt water across any given transect along the estuary. In comparison, the annual influx of invertebrates carried upstream by incoming tides was estimated to be 1.9 x 10(6) (6.2%; weighing 2.5 kg). Predominant in the downstream drift were the larvae/nymphs and/or pupae of chironomids, mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies. The 'reverse' drift comprised mainly copepods, ostracods, amphipods and oligochaetes. Mites and the brackishwater amphipod Gammarus zaddachi commonly moved in both directions. Highest drift densities occurred in July, whereas the lowest densities occurred in late autumn and winter. Multiple regression analysis showed no relationship between total drift or 'reverse' drift densities and any of the measured environmental variables. Many of the freshwater invertebrates appeared not to die upon passing into tidal sections but resumed a benthic existence by virtue of varying degrees of salt tolerance. Of the three fish species common in the estuary, eel, common goby and flounder, the last two preyed measurably on freshwater taxa. Whereas gobies tended to be opportunistic feeders, depending on the section of estuary that they occupied, flounder were more restricted to the upper estuary where they fed selectively on chironomid larvae. On the latter diet, between March and September, the mean wet weight of flounders increased by more than 100 times (from 5 to 540 mg). Gobies were more numerous in the estuary from September to February, and although they ate insects their primary prey was G. zaddachi.