Spatiotemporal variation in benthic polychaetes (Annelida) and relationships with environmental variables in a tropical estuary
Annelida constitute a dominant functional component in soft-bottom macrobenthic communities and reveal a wide range of adaptability to different marine and coastal habitats. Analyses in different polychaete assemblages and their responses to habitat conditions reflect the biological effects of marine pollution and habitat disturbance. The present study is designed to study colonization and community structure of polychaetes in two ecologically distinct locations of the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve on the northeast coast of India. Polychaete assemblages are characteristically different at the two sites in the extreme northern (Ghusighata) and southern (Gangasagar) portions of the Biosphere Reserve. Levels of heavy metals in polychaete body tissues also reveal interspecific and regional variations. The predominant polychaete fauna exhibited a distinct and unique assemblage of two types: (i) Mastobranchus indicus – Dendronereides heteropoda in the sewage-fed substratum at Ghusighata and (ii) Lumbrinereis notocirrata – Ganganereis sootai – Glycera tesselata at Gangasagar at the mouth of the Hugli estuary where chronic anthropogenic stress and contamination with agricultural and industrial effluents occur. The faunistic composition of polychaetes and their potential for the accumulation of heavy metals from the ambient medium are distinctly different. The study demonstrates that textural composition of the sediments, together with hydrodynamic and geotechnical properties, seem to have the greatest control to quantify the differences of the polychaete community in the two study stations. An in-depth comparative study of polychaete community structure at multiple spatial scales is strongly recommended for future environmental impact assessment in this fragile environment.