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Abundance and distribution of eelgrass (Zostera marina) and seaweeds at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, 2007–10

September 23, 2022

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadows are expansive along the lower Alaska Peninsula, supporting a rich diversity of marine life, yet little is known about their status and trends in the region. We tested techniques to inventory and monitor trends in the spatial extent and abundance of eelgrass in lagoons of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. We determined if Landsat imagery could be used to assess eelgrass spatial extent in shallow (less than 4 meter water depth) coastal waters of the refuge. We determined that this seagrass could be differentiated using Landsat imagery from other cover types (that is, channels and unvegetated tidal flats) with a high degree of accuracy (greater than 80 percent) in Izembek and Kinzarof Lagoons. Eelgrass meadows represented the largest cover type in Izembek (about 16,000 hectares) and Kinzarof (about 900 hectares) Lagoons, comprising between 45 and 50 percent of the spatial extent of these lagoons, respectively. When compared to estimates of spatial extent of eelgrass from previous studies, our results suggest little change in the spatial extent of eelgrass in Izembek Lagoon during the 28-year period 1978 through 2006. Preliminary mapping of eelgrass in other embayments indicated that this seagrass was also expansive in Big Lagoon (about 900 hectares; or 34 percent of the lagoon area) and Hook Bay (about 900 hectares; or 36 percent of the bay area) but not in Cold Bay (about 100 hectares; less than 5 percent of the bay area). We conducted an embayment-wide point sampling technique to assess aboveground biomass and distribution of eelgrass and seaweeds and presence of six macro-invertebrates during a 4-year period (2007–10). We determined that, when present, mean aboveground biomass of eelgrass was greater in Kinzarof Lagoon (182.5 plus or minus 12.1 grams dry weight per square meter) than in Izembek Lagoon (152.1 plus or minus 7.1 grams dry weight per square meter) in 2008–10, possibly reflecting the warmer sea temperatures and higher salinities found on the Gulf of Alaska side of the Alaska Peninsula. Seaweeds were more abundant in Kinzarof Lagoon than in Izembek Lagoon, surpassing aboveground biomass of eelgrass in both lagoons in 2008. Gastropods (4 percent of all points) and Caprella shrimp (25 percent) were the most common of the six macro-invertebrates surveyed in Izembek Lagoon, and Telmessus crab was the most common macro-invertebrate in Kinzarof Lagoon.

Publication Year 2022
Title Abundance and distribution of eelgrass (Zostera marina) and seaweeds at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, 2007–10
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201035
Authors David H. Ward, Kyle R. Hogrefe, Tyronne F. Donnelly, Lucretia L. Fairchild, Kristine M. Sowl, Sandra C. Lindstrom
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2020-1035
Index ID ofr20201035
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB