Estuarine areas are important ecological and geological systems worldwide. Estuaries store and provide nutrients for a diverse coastal ecosystem, naturally treat waters and sediments and remove pollutants and toxins through biological, physical, and chemical processes. Their sheltered and navigable waters, along with a unique setting, make estuarine areas an attractive place for development by humans. Landscape alteration associated with development is the most common stress on estuarine systems and has led to contamination and pollution of many estuaries in the United States. One area in which extreme urbanization has had deleterious effects on estuaries is southwest Florida, one of the fastest growing areas in the country.
Rapid urban and suburban growth in southwest Florida has stressed the water supply and altered the natural drainage of the land as water is diverted to prevent flooding of newly urbanized areas. By altering natural conditions and water quality within estuaries, humans may be altering the ecosystems they support. The purpose of this study is to assess whether such changes have occurred by comparing mollusk populations in a pristine and altered estuary near Naples, Florida.
Analysis of infaunal molluscan death assemblages reveals that community distribution patterns vary between pristine and altered estuaries. The altered estuary appears to have stronger gradient in infaunal benthic communities than the pristine estuary, suggesting that pre-alteration community composition is more homogeneous. Strong stratification of salinity in the altered estuary compared to a very weak stratification in the pristine estuary suggests alteration of groundwater flow is responsible. Studies of benthic molluscan communities are useful in establishing ecological baseline data for estuarine management.
Jessica Wilkening, ’00 Brooklyn, WI
Majors: Geology and Environmental Studies
Sponsor: Benjamin Greenstein