Howson, U.A.; Buchanan, G.A., and Nickels, J.A., 2017. Zooplankton community dynamics in a western mid-Atlantic lagoonal estuary. In: Buchanan, G.A.; Belton, T.J., and Paudel, B. (eds.), A Comprehensive Assessment of Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey.
Zooplankton are an integral component of the food web in estuarine ecosystems. The most recent studies of zooplankton in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, occurred almost 40 years ago. Since then, this coastal lagoon estuary has been affected by anthropogenic impacts that threaten its ecological integrity, including nutrient enrichment, algal blooms, alterations of freshwater inputs, and extensive development around the bay and its watershed. Assessing the zooplankton community in this ecosystem provided updated information on the status of this important component of the bay's living resources. Zooplankton samples were collected from the upper meter of the water column with horizontal surface net tows using bongo plankton nets monthly during the winter and twice a month during spring, summer, and fall. Sites were located along a longitudinal transect in the bay. Data included abundance and distribution of copepods, gelatinous macrozooplankton, bivalves, and decapods. The zooplankton community was characterized by strong spatial, seasonal, and interannual trends in abundance and diversity. Spatial variability is most apparent between the northern and southern sections of the bay. The northern bay was characterized by higher nitrogen and chlorophyll a; high abundances of copepods, ctenophores, and barnacle larvae; and lowest species diversity. Alkalinity, phosphate, and species diversity were higher in the southern bay. This was a typical pattern for the study, remaining stable even between seasons. It is apparent that direct and/or indirect effects of weather and climate affect zooplankton abundance in Barnegat Bay. Such sensitivity to changes in weather patterns has the potential to cause long-term shifts in the zooplankton community as a result of climate change.