MECHANISMS GENERATING MODIFICATION OF BENTHOS FOLLOWING TIDAL FLAT INVASION BY A SPARTINA HYBRID
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.