Estuaries function better with natural patterns of water flow and suspended organic matter

A new study looks at clams and mussels in five estuaries in Puget Sound, and finds that alterations to river flow, landscape connectivity among adjacent habitat types, or the type and supply of suspended organic matter (detritus), can disrupt food webs at the scale of entire landscapes. Clams and mussels, which cannot move to track food sources, are particularly affected by climate variability, levee systems, water diversion from estuaries, and dwindling availability of detritus due to loss of tidal marsh wetlands. Thus restoring natural water flows and connectivity among adjacent habitat types, such as terrestrial, aquatic, estuarine marsh, and seagrass systems, is the key to thriving estuaries. The University of Washington study was authored by SAFS graduate student Emily Howe and professor Si Simenstad, and Andrea Ogston at the School of Oceanography and appears in Ecological Applications.

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