Ecology of open - bay bottoms of Texas: a community profile
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Open-bay bottoms represent one of the most extensive habitats in any estuarine system, especially in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico estuaries of Texas. Seven major estuarine systems are found here (Sabine Lake, Galveston Bay, Matagorda Bay, San Antonio Bay, Copano-Aransas Bays, Corpust Christi Bay, and the Laguna Madre), along with three minor riverine estuaries (Brazos, San Bernard, and Rio Grande) which long ago filled. These bays are typically broad and shallow with average depths of 1.2 to 2.4 m and a total surface area of 624,000 ha. Salt marshes and seagrass beds are small. The structure and function of the benthic communitites in these Texas estuaries are examined by reviewing and integrating data from a number of past and ongoing studies. While studies in these systems have not been as numerous as in other estuaries, the patterns of structure and function are beginning to emerge. The key functions of the benthic system are production of biomass as food resources for higher trophic levels; bioturbation, which enhances nutrient regeneration; and nutrient regeneration itself. Benthic nutrient regeneration in the shallow waters of Texas estuaries may play a key role in regulating primary production in the estuaries.