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Hydrodynamics drive pelagic communities and food web structure in a tidal environment

October 20, 2020

Hydrodynamic processes can lead to the accumulation and/or dispersal of water column constituents, including sediment, phytoplankton, and particulate detritus. Using a combination of field observations and stable isotope tracing tools, we identified how hydrodynamic processes influenced physical habitat, pelagic communities, and food web structure in a freshwater tidal system. The pelagic habitat of a terminal channel differed spatially, likely aligning with differences in hydrodynamics. Three zones that we classified by exchange with downstream habitat had distinct water quality characteristics, supported different densities of zooplankton and nekton, and exhibited disparate support from benthic and pelagic trophic pathways to pelagic consumers. Hydrodynamically driven zones and their emergent characteristics appeared sensitive to hydrology, as elevated runoff was correlated with a shift in hydrodynamic habitat and organismal distributions. The results of our study highlight the relationship between hydrodynamic processes, biological responses, and climate, and suggest that understanding the physical process can improve understanding of pelagic habitats and communities.