The effects of tributyltin within a Thalassia seagrass ecosystem

John R. Kelly, Suzanne N. Levine, Linda A. Buttel, Kelly A. Carr, David T. Rudnick, R. Dana Morton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Flow-through seagrass core microcosms were used to examine responses of species and processes to a logarithmic gradient of dosing with14C-labeled tributyltin-chloride (TBT-CI). Experiments involved delivery of TBT-CI to the water column of replicate cores of a treatment (n=16) once per week; one-half of the cores were sacrificed after 3 wk of dosing, the others were dosed for 6 wk. Initial water column concentrations for the three treatments averaged 0.205, 2.23, and 22.21 μg I-1, expressed as the TBT+ cation, but these concentrations dropped rapidly. Retained14C tracer, an estimate of total organotin species, was distributed to sediments, plants, and other biological tissues, all of whose tracer concentrations increased with time. Measures to indicate responses of both autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms were made; in general, treatment effects were demonstrable statistically only at the highest dose level. Accumulation of chlorophyll and biomass on glass slides was highest when suspended for the entire experiment in the water of the highest treatment; this unexpected result was perhaps an indirect effect related to reduced grazing activity in the microcosms. The highest dose of TBT-CI resulted in virtual population mortality of a few macrobenthic species and decreased loss of plant material in litter bags, both demonstrated within the first 3 wk of dosing. Reduced litter loss was coincident with mortality of an amphipod (Cymadusa compta) capable of shredding plant material, and a causal relation between the two effects is plausible. Thus, if concentrated to similar levels in a Thalassia bed, TBT+ may have direct species-level effects and process-level effects, potentially causing ecosystem change via disruption of a species-process linkage influential in seagrass detrital food web dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-310
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 1990

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