MEPS 311:233-250 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps311233

Biodiversity and the functioning of seagrass ecosystems

J. Emmett Duffy*

School of Marine Science and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062-1346, USA

ABSTRACT: Biodiversity at multiple levels—genotypes within species, species within functional groups, habitats within a landscape—enhances productivity, resource use, and stability of seagrass ecosystems. Several themes emerge from a review of the mostly indirect evidence and the few experiments that explicitly manipulated diversity in seagrass systems. First, because many seagrass communities are dominated by 1 or a few plant species, genetic and phenotypic diversity within such foundation species has important influences on ecosystem productivity and stability. Second, in seagrass beds and many other aquatic systems, consumer control is strong, extinction is biased toward large body size and high trophic levels, and thus human impacts are often mediated by interactions of changing ‘vertical diversity’ (food chain length) with changing ‘horizontal diversity’ (heterogeneity within trophic levels). Third, the openness of marine systems means that ecosystem structure and processes often depend on interactions among habitats within a landscape (landscape diversity). There is clear evidence from seagrass systems that advection of resources and active movement of consumers among adjacent habitats influence nutrient fluxes, trophic transfer, fishery production, and species diversity. Future investigations of biodiversity effects on processes within seagrass and other aquatic ecosystems would benefit from broadening the concept of biodiversity to encompass the hierarchy of genetic through landscape diversity, focusing on links between diversity and trophic interactions, and on links between regional diversity, local diversity, and ecosystem processes. Maintaining biodiversity and biocomplexity of seagrass and other coastal ecosystems has important conservation and management implications.


KEY WORDS: Food web · Habitat structure · Landscape · Production · Stability · Trophic transfer


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