MEPS 326:145-156 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps326145

Effects of nutrient enrichment and grazing on shoalgrass Halodule wrightii and its epiphytes: results of a field experiment

K. L. Heck Jr.1,2,*, J. F. Valentine1,2, J. R. Pennock3, G. Chaplin4, P. M. Spitzer1

1Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA
2Department of Marine Science, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama 36688, USA
3Marine Program, University of New Hampshire, 56 College Road, Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA
4Auburn University Extension Service, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA

ABSTRACT: We assessed the individual and combined effects of removing large predators and enriching water column nutrients on shoalgrass Halodule wrightii meadows in Big Lagoon, Florida, USA. To simulate the first-order effects of large predator reductions, we stocked 2.0 m2 enclosures with elevated (~3 to 4× ambient) densities of the omnivorous pinfish Lagodon rhomboides, the dominant fish in local seagrass habitats, and we supplemented N and P in the water column to nearly 3× ambient levels. Monthly determinations of water column nutrients and chlorophyll a (chl a), coupled with bimonthly measurements of leaf epiphyte biomass, seagrass growth and biomass, and beginning and ending comparisons of mesograzer abundance, were used to evaluate the effects of increasing nutrient supply and changing food web structure. Results showed significant predator and nutrient effects, although there were fewer consumer effects and more negative nutrient effects on seagrasses than in our previous experiments, which had shown that mesograzers ameliorated the harmful effects of elevated nutrients on seagrasses. Epiphyte proliferation in enrichment treatments did not occur; thus, algal overgrowth could not explain the negative effects of nutrient loading on seagrass biomass. Instead, nutrient loading resulted in nitrogen-rich shoalgrass, and it appears that this high-quality food stimulated pinfish herbivory. Elevated pinfish consumption of the enriched shoalgrass then resulted in the decline of seagrass biomass in enrichment enclosures. These results add additional complexity to understanding and predicting the effects of eutrophication in coastal waters.

KEY WORDS: Seagrass · Nutrients · Herbivory · Trophic cascades · Pinfish

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