Severe and persistent bottom-water hypoxia (≤2 mg O2 L−1) occurs on the Louisiana/Texas continental shelf from mid-May through mid-September over a large area (up to 23,000 km2 in mid-summer). Benthic infauna are less mobile than demersal organisms and become stressed by the low dissolved oxygen; benthic community composition, abundance, diversity, and biomass become altered. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, when sediment core indicators identified the initiation and subsequent worsening of dissolved oxygen conditions, there were no hydrographic data or benthic infaunal studies within the current area of frequent bottom-water hypoxia. This study highlights the impacts of severe hypoxia on benthic macroinfaunal communities and how they may have changed from less-hypoxic periods. Polychaetes were and are the dominant taxa in the available studies, but polychaete species richness in summer is now curtailed severely beginning with our 1985–1986 data . Species richness of polychaetes in summer hypoxia (1985–1986 and 1990–1991) was about 60% less than comparable taxa in 1972–1973. Abundance of polychaetes was much less in summer than spring, and recent infaunal biomass in summer was only 15% of what was found in spring. The result is less prey for demersal penaeid shrimp and fishes. Over the period of our comparison, infaunal feeding modes shifted from subsurface deposit feeders and surface deposit feeders to primarily surface deposit feeders (i.e., 95.5% of all polychaetes). Most were opportunistic, hypoxia tolerant, and recruited in high numbers following hypoxia abatement, some in fall and winter but most in spring. As benthic communities succumb to the stress of severe and continued seasonal low oxygen, they occupy the few upper centimeters of the sediment profile above the redox discontinuity layer with negative feedbacks to the water column by way of altered biogeochemical processes.
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