Dig deep right into the human being of benthic organisms: the clams, worms, oysters and also mussels that live in ~ the bottom of the Bay and its rivers.

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Benthos room the organisms the live at the bottom the the Chesapeake Bay and its streams and rivers. Words benthos comes from a Greek term definition “depths the the sea.” Benthic areas are complicated and encompass a wide variety of animals, plants and also bacteria from every levels of the food web. Clams, worms, oysters, shrimp-like crustaceans and also mussels room all instances of benthic organisms.

What types of benthic organisms live in the Chesapeake Bay?

There space two groups of benthic organisms, based upon their habitat: epifauna and also infauna. Epifauna live attached come a surface and also infauna live in ~ bottom sediments.


Epifauna live enclosed to hard surfaces such as rocks, shells and also pilings or straight on the surface of the Bay’s bottom. Epifauna incorporate oysters, sponges, sea squirts, sea stars and also barnacles. An oyster reef is an instance of an epifaunal benthic community.


Infauna burrow into bottom sediments. Worms, clams and other infauna kind their own neighborhoods that are connected to the water by tubes and also tunnels. A healthy infaunal community contains many different species.

A common healthy benthic community


Why are benthic biology important?

Benthos pat several crucial roles in the food web and also serve as terrific indicator of environmental problems in the Bay and also its streams and rivers.

An important connect in the food web

Benthos link primary producers—phytoplankton—with greater levels in the food web.

Filter feeders such together clams and also oysters consume plankton and organic particles.Many benthic creatures, particularly clams and worms, offer as food for larger, financially important varieties such together blue crabs, stripe bass, spot, croaker and also white perch.

Additionally, the bacteria, decomposers and detritus-feeders the live at the bottom the the Bay malfunction waste products and dead plants and also animals.

An environmental snapshot

Scientists research benthic organisms since they carry out a good snapshot the environmental problems in the Bay and its streams and rivers. Most benthic creatures cannot move an extremely far—if in ~ all—so they can’t avoid pollution or unhealthy water conditions.

Benthic communities are exposed to many stressors, consisting of low oxygen levels, overfill sediment and chemical contaminants.

In summer, high temperatures and nutrient pollution frequently lead to low-oxygen locations at the bottom of the Bay and its rivers.Excess sediment exposed in the water deserve to block sunshine from getting to bay grasses growing at the bottom. As soon as sediment lastly settles, it deserve to bury oyster bars and also other benthic species.Many chemical contaminants tie to bottom sediments, continuing to be there for years. Benthic species become contaminated when they feed and live in these toxicity sediments.

Working through the Maryland department of natural Resources and also Virginia room of ecological Quality, the Chesapeake only Program has actually monitored the wellness of benthic organisms in the tidal Chesapeake Bay because 1984. Every year, researchers through the Chesapeake bay Benthic Monitoring regimen collect hundreds of samples and also compare species abundance, biomass, diversity and also other attributes to conditions that would be meant in a healthy environment. The sample results are then scored ~ above a one-to-five scale called the Benthic table of contents of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.

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Over the past decade, the health of bottom habitat in the tidal Bay has remained poor. Researcher did observe minor improvements in 2015, however, with 62 percent the the Bay’s tidal bottom conference restoration purposes (compared come 59 percent in 2014). In other words, when 38 percent of the tidal Bay’s bottom habitat is marginal, degraded or severely degraded—home to more pollution-tolerant species, fewer species overall, fewer big organisms deep in the sediment and also a lower total mass the organisms—almost two-thirds the this habitat is house to a healthy neighborhood of benthic organisms. Furthermore, the extent of degraded and also severely degraded problems was the shortest it has actually been since 1996. Professionals attribute this improvement in bottom habitat to improvements in liquified oxygen. Enhancements in bottom water quality are assumed to be the an outcome of short spring river flow, i beg your pardon meant lower polluted runoff flowing right into the Bay.