MEPS 238:73-79 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps238073

Direct measurements of light attenuation by epiphytes on eelgrass Zostera marina

Mark J. Brush*, Scott W. Nixon

Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, Rhode Island 02882-1197, USA
*E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Declines in the seagrass Zostera marina L. in estuaries and lagoons have been attributed in part to reductions in irradiance reaching the seagrass blades. Epiphytes growing on Z. marina have the potential to attenuate a large fraction of the light that would otherwise reach the blades. This problem has previously been studied by measuring light penetration through homogenized epiphytic slurries or through glass slides fouled with epiphytes. However, the latter may not represent the natural succession or species composition found on live Z. marina leaves and the former does not preserve the structure of the epiphytic complex. Further, past studies have not measured attenuation across the full range of epiphytic densities found in the field. In this study, we measured light penetration across a wide range of epiphytic densities by holding scraped and unscraped Z. marina blades over a submerged light sensor. Results compared well with past studies at low epiphyte densities, with strong reductions in light penetration as density increased. However, at higher densities, penetration leveled off to a relatively constant value as the epiphytes floated out from the edges of the blade. Studies using slurries did not capture this phenomenon and thus predicted decreasing penetration down to 0%.


KEY WORDS: Epiphytes · Light attenuation · Seagrass · Zostera marina


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