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Salt ponds of the British Virgin Islands : investigations in an unexplored ecosystem

Jarecki, Lianna Louise (2003) Salt ponds of the British Virgin Islands : investigations in an unexplored ecosystem. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94440) (KAR id:94440)

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Salt ponds occur within the coastal mangrove forests of Caribbean islands, where they are threatened by coastal development. Despite extremes of salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen, these ponds support highly productive aquatic communities upon which most waterbirds depend. Salt ponds also provide valuable services, such as trapping sediments and nutrients that can damage near-shore marine ecosystems. Nevertheless, salt ponds have received little scientific attention, resulting in a misunderstanding of their ecosystem services and little guidance for their appropriate management.

This thesis presents an ecosystem characterization, based on extensive sampling of hydrological, chemical and biological parameters in salt ponds of the British Virgin Islands. Sampling results showed levels of temporal and spatial variation previously undescribed in mangrove habitats. Patterns of variation among ponds indicated at least 3 distinct types of ponds and reflected a geological transition from open lagoons through successive pond stages with increasing isolation from seawater.

Pond salinities fluctuated in response to seasonal evaporation and precipitation patterns. Mean salinities in most ponds ranged from 52 ± 33 to 160 ± 69 ppt. Populations of widely-distributed aquatic taxa responded to temporal salinity variations. Most taxa did not occur at salinities above 120 ppt, but a few tolerated salinities greater than 150 ppt. High-salinity species were generally absent, due to predatory and competitive interactions, at salinities below 70 ppt. Transitions between communities of high-salinity and low-salinity taxa occurred at salinities between 75 and 110 ppt.

Salinity fluctuations and community responses were not synchronized among ponds, leading to a shifting mosaic of aquatic populations. Waterbirds depended on these fluctuating prey populations and regularly moved between ponds. These findings showed that salt ponds exist as a network of habitats within a wider ecosystem. As a result, effective conservation efforts must protect a full range of salt ponds rather than individual ponds.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94440
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Ecosystems; British Virgin Islands
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH541 Ecology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Natural Sciences > Biosciences
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2022 13:22 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 14:20 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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