A previous correlative study showed that assemblages of macrobenthic infauna and abundances of common taxa on intertidal mudflats differed between a no-wash zone, where ferries had to minimize production of wash, and places where the production of wash was unrestricted (wash zone). This suggested that boat-generated waves (wash) are important in determining the structure of these assemblages. Causality between wash and the observed patterns could not, however, be unambiguously established, due to the absence of 'before' data. Here, a managerial decision to stop ferry services on the upper Parramatta River, Sydney, Australia during the 2000 Olympics was used as the basis for a manipulative experiment to examine the effects of changes in the amount of wash on these fauna. It was hypothesized that if wash is important in structuring infaunal assemblages, assemblages in the wash zone would become more similar to those of the no-wash zone following removal of the disturbing force, i.e. the ferry service. Similarly, if the smaller abundances of capitellids, nereids and spionids in the wash zone are caused by this disturbance, abundances should increase in the wash zone during the stoppage and decrease following the return of services. As hypothesized, assemblages within the wash zone became more similar to those of the no-wash zone following the temporary removal of the ferry services. Following the return of ferries, assemblages changed back towards (although not reaching) their previous state. Abundances of the polychaete families Nereididae, Capitellidae and Spionidae also increased at some sites during the cessation, although this pattern was not found in all sites and there was no general response to the cessation of wash as had been predicted. These results indicate that wash is important in structuring assemblages of macrobenthic infauna, although responses of individual taxa are more idiosyncratic. More importantly, they show that manipulations, resulting from managerial decisions, can be treated as testable hypotheses and utilized by scientists as experiments to test for causal relationships.
- ecological impact