The zooplankton of temporarily open/closed estuaries : case studies of the Mdloti and the Mhlanga estuaries, KwaZulu-Natal North Coast.
Thwala, Xolani Christopher.
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The zooplankton communities of the Mdloti and Mhlanga estuaries were studied over a 13-month period (March 2002-March 2003). Monthly daytime samples were collected from both estuaries at the lower, middle and upper reaches using a WP-2 net and a hyperbenthic sled. Throughout the study period, the Mdloti Estuary experienced nine breachings, while the Mhlanga experienced 16 such events. Significant differences in zooplankton abundance were observed between the two estuaries (F I, 73 = 5.2; P<0.05), with the Mdloti consistently exhibiting higher values than the Mhlanga. No significant differences were, however, observed in zooplankton biomass between the two estuaries (U = 634; P>0.05). At the Mdloti, zooplankton abundance ranged from 20 ind.m-3 to 5.4 x 106 ind.m-3 , while at the Mhlanga this ranged from 76 ind.m-3 to 2.0 x 105 ind.m-3 • Zooplankton biomass ranged from 0.08 mg.m-3 (OW) to 2010 mg.m-3 (OW) at the Mdloti, and from 0.18 mg.m-3 (OW) to 1210 mg.m-3 (OW) at the Mhlanga. A one-way ANOV A revealed significant differences in zooplankton abundance between the open and the closed phase, both at the Mdloti (FI, 30 = 59; P<0.05) 'and the Mhlanga (FI, 38 = 7.3; P<0.05), with the closed phase exhibiting consistently higher values than the open. Similarly, biomass was significantly higher during the closed than the open phase, both at the Mdloti (U= 16.5; P<O.OI) and the Mhlanga (U= 88, P<O.O 1). This pattern may be attributed to the stability achieved by these systems during periods of mouth closure, when the estuaries exhibit less freshwater input and a restricted exchange of water with the sea. At the Mdloti, zooplankton biomass (OW) was positively correlated to both phytoplankton (r= 0.36) and microphytobenthos biomass (r = 0.41). At the Mhlanga, zooplankton biomass (OW) was only positively correlated to phytoplankton biomass (r = 0.45) The most abundant taxa at the Mdloti during the open phase were Pseudodiaptomus hessei and copepod nauplii, each contributing 38% and 32% of the total stock, respectively. During the closed phase, however, rotifers were by far the dominant taxon, contributing 82% of the total zooplankton abundance. These were followed by cope pod nauplii with 16%. At the Mhlanga, the most abundant groups during the open phase were again the copepod nauplii (89%) and P. hessei (7 %), while the closed phase was dominated mainly by caridean larvae (39%) and copepod nauplii (26%). The dominance of P. hessei during the open phase of both estuaries may be attributed to the pioneering nature of this species. The dominance of rotifers at the Mdloti during the closed phase may have been due to the freshwater conditions that prevailed in this estuary as a result of prolonged mouth closure. The concentration of copepod nauplii increased dramatically 2-4 weeks after major rain events, possibly due to the hatching of dormant eggs in response to freshwater pulses.
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