Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2014-28


A Paleoecological History of the Late Precolonial and Postcolonial Mesohaline Chesapeake Bay Food Web




Sowers, AA; Brush, GS


Estuaries and Coasts
37 ( 6 ) : 1506 - 1515




Geochemical (total nitrogen, total organic carbon, total phosphorus, total sulfur, and carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes) and selected biotic (diatom, foraminifera, polychaete) indicators preserved in two estuarine sediment cores from the mesohaline Chesapeake Bay provide a history of alterations in the food web associated with land-use change. One core from the mouth of the Chester River (CR) (collected in 2000) represents a 1,000-year record. The second core (collected in 1999), from the Chesapeake Bay's main stem opposite the Choptank River (MD), represents a 500-year record. As European settlers converted a primarily forested landscape to agriculture, sedimentation rates increased, water clarity decreased, salinity decreased in some areas, and the estuarine food web changed into a predominantly planktonic system. Representatives of the benthic macrofaunal community (foraminifera and the polychaetes Nereis spp.) were affected by local changes before there were widespread landscape alterations. Nitrogen stable isotope records indicated that land-use changes affected nitrogen cycling beginning in the early 1700s. Extreme changes were evident in the mid-nineteenth century following widespread deforestation and since the mid-twentieth century reflecting heightened eutrophication as development increased in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Results also demonstrate how paleoecological records vary due to the degree of terrestrial inputs of freshwater runoff and nutrients at core locations within the Chesapeake Bay.

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