The Influence of Dry-season Conditions on the Bottom Dwelling Fauna of an East Australian Sub-tropical Estuary

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Spatial patterns in benthic infaunal community structure of Port Curtis estuary (north-eastern Australia) were determined from quantitative grab samples and examined in relation to environmental variables. A total of 149 riverine, estuarine and open coastal stations were sampled during the winter survey, and 5744 individuals from 466 species identified. Filter-feeding organisms (primarily polychaetes, molluscs and crustaceans) dominated the benthos, and accounted for 50% of the total species abundance and 30% of the total species richness. Most taxa were uncommon, and 98% of species individually represented less than 2% of the total abundance. Distributional patterns in total species richness and abundance were highly correlated, and both parameters varied significantly with sediment grain size. Numbers of species and individuals were typically highest in coarse-sand and gravel sediments, and were lowest in fine, well-sorted, sands. Cluster analysis of species abundance data revealed nine community groupings characterised by small species sub-sets with restricted distributions. These groupings were primarily related to sediment grain size, sediment organic carbon content, salinity and depth. Not all variation in community structure was explained by these environmental variables, and it is likely that other unmeasured factors play an important role in determining benthic faunal composition in the estuary.

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