From rivers to oceans : a comparison of contrasting aquatic ecosystems using benthic size spectra
This thesis uses a range of different size spectra to compare contrasting benthic habitats in the aquatic realm. Temporal and spatial variation in benthic size spectra were investigated across a full salinity gradient (i.e. from freshwater, through estuarine to marine) in the River Yealm, south Devon, in order to gauge the influence of large differences in taxonomy and evolutionary history. Abundance and biomass size spectra showed a similar pattern among sites in all seasons but winter, suggesting that the size structure of benthic communities may be similar in sites with very different community compositions. A subsequent study comparing size spectra across salinity by employing artificial substrata suggested that substratum type also had little effect on the size structure of these benthic communities. A technique was developed for obtaining microbial size distributions for benthic communities and showed that microbial size structures were also similar between the marine and freshwater sites within the Yealm system. A final study demonstrated that the shape of size spectra was clearly affected by metal contamination. Size spectra across a salinity gradient -(i.e. from freshwater to lower estuary) in the highly contaminated Fal system were very different to those in the uncontaminated Yealm, due mostly to the low macrofaunal abundance in the former. This thesis is the first to assess patterns in benthic size spectra across a full salinity range in the same system. It is hoped that it will provide a base line for further studies in this exciting research area in macroecology and that biomass spectra might also prove useful as metrics for biomonitoring.