Reconstructing long-term patterns in sea nettle abundance and effects on the Chesapeake Bay food web

Principal Investigator:

Denise L. Breitburg

Start/End Year:

2007 - 2011


Smithsonian Environmental Research Center


Strategic focus area:

Resilient ecosystem processes and responses


Objectives: This proposal seeks funding to reconstruct unpublished historical data on sea nettle abundance, convert semi-quantitative estimates, develop a methodology to reduce the subjectivity inherent in visual pier count data, and to produce an on-line publicly available electronic database that can be used as a foundation for future research and management efforts. Methodology: Objective of this project will be met by creating a database containing unpublished data collected by David Cargo and colleagues from 1960-1998 that will become part of the Chesapeake Information Management System, using Tucker trawls and plankton tows to convert visual count and catch/unit time to estimates of sea nettle densities (number and volumes m-3), and using these estimates to reconstruct historical mesohaline mainstem Bay, mainstem Patuxent River and Patuxent subtributary creek (St. John's Creek) sea nettle densities. Rationale: Predicting potential benefits and unintended results of restoration activities requires an understanding of historical trajectories followed during system degradation, as well as an understanding of the likelihood of following historical or alternate trajectories as restoration efforts proceed. As efforts are made to reverse the effects of stressors, and as we move towards a more holistic ecosystem-based approach to management, it is increasingly important to understand how dominant species and interactions within the Bay food web have changed. The unpublished data collected by Cargo and colleagues can make a valuable contribution to our understanding of how the structure and function of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem has changed. These data should not be lost from the scientific record.

Related Publications:

Rathjen, KA; Breitburg, DL; Neale, PJ. 2012. Effects of ultraviolet radiation on the growth, reproduction and survival of the lobate ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi in Chesapeake Bay. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology432:121 -130. doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2012.06.029. UM-SG-RS-2012-22.

Breitburg, DL; Crump, BC; Dabiri, JO; Gallegos, CL. 2010. Ecosystem engineers in the pelagic realm: alteration of habitat by species ranging from microbes to jellyfish. Integrative and Comparative Biology50(2):188 -200. doi:10.1093/icb/icq051. UM-SG-RS-2010-09.

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