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NCCOS Research Project

Where is the Fish Food? Chesapeake Bay Mesozooplankton Abundance and Composition

Primary Contact(s): gretchen.messick@noaa.gov
This project began in January 2011 and was completed in February 2015

The purpose of this project is to collect and document the abundance and composition of Chesapeake Bay mesozooplankton, an important food source for juvenile fish in the region. The information obtained will help establish the current status of mesozooplankton and provide science for ecosystem management in Chesapeake Bay.

Why We Care
Fish and shellfish populations are dwindling in the Chesapeake Bay due to ecosystem changes. Two important indicators of Bay health are mesozooplankton abundance and composition because of their short life span, sensitivity to environmental changes, and dependence of local juvenile fish on mesozooplankton as a food source. Unfortunately, mesozooplankton species from have not been monitored in the Bay area since 2002.

In 2009, President Obama acknowledged that Chesapeake Bay productivity is threatened and issued Executive Order 13508, Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, to strengthen and coordinate federal initiatives addressing challenges facing the bay and watershed.

Our mesozooplankton project addresses three goals of the executive order:

  1. Provide habitat research to protect and restore Chesapeake Bay living resources and water quality
  2. Respond to climate change in the Chesapeake Bay watershed
  3. Strengthen science and decision support for ecosystem management in the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.

What We Are Doing
We are providing an update on mesozooplankton status in the Chesapeake Bay by conducting monthly sampling from stations throughout the Bay. We also sampled juvenile fish during the spring for additional data for Striped Bass and Perch spawning habitats.

This data will point out spatial and temporal trends or changes in the last decade in the food web in relation to water quality. Since mesozooplankton is an important link between primary producers and higher trophic level fish and shellfish, this program enhances understanding of Chesapeake Bay’s environmental condition and allows managers to make informed decisions.

This work is the result of a partnership between NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Cooperative Oxford Lab (COL) and State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR), along with input from Chesapeake Bay Program, University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) and CRC.

Next Steps
We are continuing to work with HPL scientist to evaluate data and complete species composition and abundance counts. We will be comparing historical data with our results and publish findings in a NOAA technical memorandum and submit our findings into the Chesapeake Bay Program Data Hub. As resources become available, we will continue to collect and analyze samples from Chesapeake Bay. We will evaluate the usefulness of this monitoring for Chesapeake Bay resource management decisions and discuss expansion options with the scientific community interested in Chesapeake Bay primary productivity.

Additional Resources

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Data Collections

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