St. Lucie, the southernmost inlet of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, is affected by a variety of stresses including dumping from Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater lake in the U.S., through a system of canals. Foraminifera, a major component of the meiofauna, are utilized
as a source of nutrition by a large assortment of deposit feeders in this area. Just as pollutants, spills, and organic enrichment are obvious sublethal effects of estuarine health, so too is the disappearance of organisms constituting essential links in the food web. Because the meiofauna
is at the base of the food web, the consequences of major declines and local extinctions clearly are indicators of serious damage to the health of the entire ecosystem. To establish a baseline, foraminiferal density, species richness, evenness, and community structure were examined in 1975/1976.
Thirty years later in 2005, the same area was re-sampled. In 1975/1976 the mean density was 280 per 20 ml of sediment. In 2005, we observed a mean of 46 per 20 ml, a decline of 83%. In 1975/1976, we observed 62 species while in 2005 we observed 13, a decline of 79%. The most abundant species
constituted 42% of the fauna in 1975/1976; by 2005 it had risen to 76%, a dramatic increase in dominance. Based upon our newly-developed three-stage evaluation system of ecosystem decline over time, we find that the St. Lucie area is nearing, if not at, the beginning of Stage 3 (local extinction).
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