Many of the features that make estuaries among the most productive natural systems on earth also make them prone to acidification. Understanding the effects of estuarine acidification on different components of an ecological community is an important step in identifying indicators of ecosystem degradation. This study examined the impact of estuarine acidification, as a result of acid sulfate soil runoff, on wild Sydney rock oysters Saccostrea glomerata and their associated epifaunal communities in estuaries experiencing acid sulfate soil runoff in New South Wales, Australia. The responses of oysters and their invertebrate epifaunal communities to chronic acidification (greater than 6 mo; represented by oyster source site conditions) were assessed by examining the differences in oyster communities associated with moderate acidification (3.5 km from the source of acidification) or low acidification (8.2 km from the source). Oysters from moderate- or low-acidification sites were transplanted to a site with high exposure to acidification (less than 3 km from the source) or back to their original source sites (control) to mimic episodic acidification (2 wk). Epifaunal mussels Xenostrobus securis and limpets Patelloida mimula showed a negative association with oyster mortality, suggesting that these communities are closely tied to oyster survival. Oyster-associated epifaunal communities exposed to both chronic and episodic acidification were significantly different from communities with low exposure. Epifaunal communities exposed to episodic acidification were significantly less diverse than the control. Spionid and syllid worms were significantly less abundant and the mussel X. securis was significantly more abundant on oysters with moderate exposure or chronic exposure to acidification, as compared with communities from areas with low exposure to acidification. The mussel X. securis and the snail Bembicium auratum were significantly less abundant in oyster communities that were exposed to episodic acidification, as compared with the control. In systems where community composition depends on a single habitat-forming species, maintaining resistance may rely on the ability of that species to persist in the face of environmental stress.
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Vol. 37 • No. 1