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Molluscan Community Recovery in a New England Back-Barrier Salt Marsh Lagoon 10 Years after Partial Restoration



Like many Eastern U.S. salt marshes, East Harbor salt marsh lagoon on Cape Cod was isolated from tidal flow in the 1800s, resulting in near-freshwater conditions and loss of native salt marsh species. After its partial restoration in 2002, a variety of marine and estuarine fauna recolonized East Harbor, and soft shell clam (Mya arenaria) recolonization was particularly prolific. The goal of our study was to evaluate molluscan community composition, density, and distribution at regular intervals for 10 years following restoration, and to relate molluscan community recovery to various physical properties at the site. In 2007, 2008, and 2011, we sampled mollusks at several points across East Harbor, and we also recorded water salinity and temperature, particle size distribution, and submerged aquatic vegetation density. In 2007 and 2008, we encountered 12 and 11 mollusk species, respectively; M. arenaria was the most abundant species in 2007 and the second most abundant species in 2008. In 2011, we encountered eight mollusk species and M. arenaria was the most abundant species. Mollusk species richness declined from 12 to 8 species between 2008 and 2011. Our results show that mollusk species richness and density have declined significantly since the first few years following restoration; related studies attribute this to high summer water temperatures in the Main Lagoon and severe macroalgal blooms during 2005–2006. This suggests that East Harbor is still equilibrating to baseline conditions and that full tidal restoration may be necessary to sustain a diverse mollusk community at East Harbor.