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Multi‐level Effects of Severe Storms on an Offshore Temperate Reef System: Benthic Sediments, Macroalgae, and Implications for Fisheries

Renaud, Paul E., Ambrose, William G., Jr., Riggs, Stanley R., Syster, David A.
Marine ecology 1996 v.17 no.1-3 pp. 383-398
benthic organisms, community development, continental shelf, ecosystems, fish, fisheries, habitats, juveniles, macroalgae, marine sediments, meadows, sand, storms, North Carolina
Episodic events have been shown to strongly affect structure and function of marine benthic ecosystems. Severe storms can have profound effects on the distribution of marine sediments which could, in turn, influence the development of benthic communities. The rich and diverse epibenthic communities on the United States mid‐Atlantic continental shelf owe their existence to the presence of a complex sequence of rocky outcrops. An unusually strong storm struck this shelf system in March 1993. Two of these carbonate platforms had been characterized by moderate sediment cover for at least the previous two years, but bottom water velocities generated by this storm removed considerable amounts of sediment from these upper flat hardbottom habitats. Macroalgal cover on these platforms dramatically increased between 1992 and 1993 with the increased exposure of hard substrate for attachment. The edges of the outcrops (scarps and rubble ramps), which are usually free of sediment, maintained their dense algal cover. Settlement blocks placed in various sub‐habitats showed little variation in algal cover among flat hardbottom and scarp areas during both years, indicating that available hard substrate habitat may be the primary limiting factor for algal growth on the North Carolina continental shelf. Since macroalgal meadows provide food and shelter for juvenile fish, the increase in critical habitat following these storms may have implications for recruitment of economically important fish species. Thus, indirect effects of episodic storms, i.e., redistribution of sand bodies leading to algal meadow development over large spatial scales, may have important consequences for benthic community development and persistence in temperate reef systems.