• Influence of environmental attributes on intertidal community structure in glacial estuaries

      McCabe, Mary K.; Konar, Brenda; Iken, Katrin; Kelley, Amanda (2021-05)
      High-latitude coastal environments are experiencing dramatic changes due to climate warming. Increased glacier discharge rates modulate downstream environmental conditions in coastal watersheds. These fast-changing environments are predicted to influence the structure of nearshore marine communities. Here, rocky intertidal community structure, recruitment of key organisms, and environmental correlates were examined at nine watersheds in two regions (Kachemak Bay and Lynn Canal) that bookend the Gulf of Alaska, which were separated by approximately 1000km. Each watershed was part of a gradient in each of the regions that spanned 0-60% glacial coverage. Percent cover, biomass surveys, and recruitment of intertidal organisms, along with environmental monitoring of salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, river discharge, turbidity, and nutrient loading were completed from April - September 2019 in each watershed. Biological community structure and variance were analyzed by taxa and by ecological group (i.e., primary producer, filter feeder, omnivore, grazer, predator) and then in relation to the local environmental spatiotemporal profiles. In general, larger watersheds with more glacial coverage and river discharge resulted in higher cover of primary producers and less cover of filter feeders. This pattern was more apparent in the region with more oceanic influence as compared to the other region located within an inlet. In relation to specific environmental drivers, salinity was negatively correlated with primary producer cover (r = -0.52), but positively associated with barnacle cover (r = 0.40). Additionally, turbidity was positively correlated with primary producer biomass (r = 0.50), but negatively correlated with mussel cover (r = -0.30). In contrast, there was a positive relationship among mussel recruitment and discharge and turbidity. There was variability in within-ecological group response between regions that could be a response to local circulation and oceanic influences. Barnacles were the main filter feeder species driving patterns in the more saline region located close to the open ocean, while mussels drove patterns in the other less oceanic region. As glaciers recede, environmental conditions, such as salinity, will increase and turbidity will decrease, which may alter future intertidal community assemblages dominated by filter feeders.