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Environmental controls on shallow subtidal molluscan death assemblages on San Salvador Island, The Bahamas

Brown, Garett M., Larina, Ekaterina
Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology 2019 v.527 pp. 14-24
bioturbation, cluster analysis, correspondence analysis, death, dissolved oxygen, environmental factors, invertebrates, oxygen, pH, seagrasses, shear stress, temperature, water power, Bahamas
Ecological studies that span multiple marine depositional environments frequently find that benthic invertebrate assemblages are correlated primarily with an onshore-offshore gradient. Variability within the same depositional environment is inferred to not result from water depth differences, but other parameters such as substrate consistency and shear stress. Modern studies focusing on assemblage variations within the same depositional environment can identify which variables affecting assemblage compositions are independent of water depth. This study examines the environmental controls on the composition of molluscan death assemblages from the shallow subtidal environments of San Salvador Island. Molluscan assemblages were tabulated from twenty-nine bulk samples collected from four locations around San Salvador Island representing seagrass meadows, open sandflats, and patch reef systems common in the shallow subtidal. In addition, quantitative environmental data for each sample was characterized, including seagrass density, water depth, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and grain-size, as well as qualitative observations of wave energy and bioturbation. Cluster analysis and canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) were performed to identify environmental gradients associated with molluscan assemblage composition. Cluster analysis and CCA Axis 1 identify seagrass coverage and substrate consistency as the primary environmental variables describing molluscan death assemblage compositions. CCA Axis 2 identifies wave energy, bioturbation, and dissolved oxygen as the secondary environmental variables, though the small range of dissolved oxygen values (17–21 mg/L) collected using single, instantaneous measurements make it unclear whether the oxygen gradient is ecologically significant for our time-averaged assemblages. Our analysis demonstrates the variability of assemblages within a single depositional environment, as well as the utility of fine-resolution studies for identifying secondary environmental variables that control the composition of marine invertebrate assemblages.