Estuarine macrobenthic community structure in the Hawkesbury River, Australia: Relationships with sediment physicochemical and anthropogenic parameters

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Journal Article
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 2001, 72 (1), pp. 51 - 78
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Macrobenthic community assemblage diversity and abundance were monitored on both Cowan and Berowra Creeks in the estuarine reaches of the Hawkesbury River, Sydney Australia during 1997-1998. Natural sediment physicochemical differences were assessed, along with low-level anthropogenic contaminants including copper, lead, zinc, phosphorus and nitrogen. Contaminant levels at all sites were below sediment guideline values for biological effects. Natural physicochemical sediment differences were the main determinants in species assemblage patterns among sites. Three groupings of sites with similar assemblages were observed during February 1998. Berowra Creek sites, which were higher in organic content and silt/clay (and thus metals and nutrients), higher in pH and lower in salinity, were similar in terms of contributions by the polychaetes Ceratoneresis aequisetis, Scoloplos normalis, the isopod Cyathura hakea and the bivalve mollusc Soletellina alba. Sites on upper Cowan Creek, higher in organic content, silt/clay (nutrients and metals) and lower in salinity, were similar and separated from other sites in terms of the polychaete Carazziella victoriensis and the gastropod mollusc Nassarius jonasii. Sites lower in Cowan Creek, tended to be higher in sand content, more saline and lower in organic content and thus nutrient and metal concentrations. These sites were similar in terms of contributions of the polychaete Sigalion bandaensis and the bivalve molluscs, Mysella vitrea and Tellina deltoidalis. The biotic assemblage patterns were not maintained temporally, suggesting the importance of monitoring over time to assess possible future impacts. Aggregating species data to the family level resulted in similar site discrimination. Site differences were less distinct at higher taxonomic levels and suggests future monitoring at the family level is sufficient to detect assemblage differences among sites. The results obtained represent the difficulty in detecting responses to low-level contamination at the community level, and provide a sound anticipatory baseline for the assessment of future possible anthropogenic disturbance in the Hawkesbury River.
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