MEPS 551:81-94 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11717

A comprehensive analysis of mechanical and morphological traits in temperate and tropical seagrass species

Carmen B. de los Santos1,*, Yusuke Onoda2,3, Juan J. Vergara1, J. Lucas Pérez-Lloréns1, Tjeerd J. Bouma4, Yayu A. La Nafie4,5, Marion L. Cambridge6, Fernando G. Brun1

1Department of Biology, University of Cádiz, Puerto Real 11510, Cádiz, Spain
2Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
3Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Kyoto, 606-8502, Japan
4Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Yerseke, 4401 NT, The Netherlands
5Department of Marine Science, Hasanuddin University, Makassar, 90245, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
6The Oceans Institute and School of Plant Biology, The University of Western Australia, Perth, WA 6009, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Knowledge of plant mechanical traits is important in understanding how plants resist abiotic and biotic forces and in explaining ecological strategies such as leaf lifespan. To date, these traits have not been systematically evaluated in seagrasses. We analysed mechanical (breaking force and tensile strength) and associated traits (thickness, width, length, fibre content, mass area, and lifespan) of leaves in 22 seagrass species (around one-third of all known seagrass species) to examine (1) the inter-specific variation of these traits in relation to growth form and bioregions, (2) the contribution of morphology to leaf breaking force, (3) how breaking force scales to leaf dimensions, and (4) how mechanical and structural traits correlate to leaf longevity. We also compared our seagrass dataset with terrestrial plant databases to examine similarities between them. Large variation in leaf breaking force was found among seagrass species but, on average, temperate species resisted higher forces than tropical species. Variation in leaf breaking force was largely explained by differences in leaf width rather than thickness, likely due to the benefits in leaf reconfiguration and light interception. Species of large dimensions (long leaves) typically had high leaf breaking force, plausibly to tolerate the drag forces they may experience, which are proportional to the leaf area. Leaves of long-lived species typically had high mass per leaf area and fibre content and they supported high breaking forces. Compared to terrestrial plants, seagrasses are short-lived species with moderately strong fibre-reinforced leaves, which probably evolved to withstand the hydrodynamic forces occurring in the sea, and in response to other environmental factors. Overall, our analysis provides new insights into the physical performance of seagrasses in the marine environment.


KEY WORDS: Biomechanics · Seagrass · Breaking force · Leaf mass per area · Leaf size · Fibre content · Leaf lifespan


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Cite this article as: de los Santos CB, Onoda Y, Vergara JJ, Pérez-Lloréns JL and others (2016) A comprehensive analysis of mechanical and morphological traits in temperate and tropical seagrass species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 551:81-94. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11717

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