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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 385:97-109 (2009)  -  DOI:

Pulsating patches: a model for the spatial and temporal dynamics of the threatened seagrass Halophila johnsonii

Robert W. Virnstein1,3,*,**, Lee-Ann C. Hayek2,**, Lori J. Morris3

1Seagrass Ecosystems Analysts, 142 Elgin Road, East Palatka, Florida 32131, USA
2Smithsonian Institution, NHB MRC-121, Washington, DC 20560, USA
3St. Johns River Water Management District, Palatka, Florida 32178, USA
 *Email: **Order of first 2 authors was decided by a coin toss

ABSTRACT: The Indian River Lagoon (IRL), FL, USA, is arguably the most biologically diverse estuarine system in the continental USA. An important part of any marine ecosystem, seagrass beds provide food, habitat, and nursery for both vertebrate and invertebrate inhabitants. Their high productivity and sensitivity to water quality changes make seagrasses primary indicators of overall coastal ecosystem health. Halophila johnsonii (Johnson’s seagrass), currently federally listed as a threatened species, is one of the rarest seagrass species, and is found within the IRL usually only approximately between Sebastian and Jupiter Inlets, continuing south to northern Biscayne Bay. Quantitative data for the present study is a subset of the monitoring of all 7 seagrass species in the IRL starting in 1994 with 1 m2 quadrats placed every 10 m along each transect from shore to the deep edge of the seagrass bed. The present study reports long-term data for H. johnsonii from the 35 transects within its range in the IRL sampled continuously (summer and winter) from 1994 through 2007. Our objective was to provide insight and to test hypotheses about the dynamic nature of H. johnsonii. In addition, we developed an index of retrospective effect size to assess the importance of ecological factors and their interactions as well as to develop a comparative basis for future seagrass studies. This erratic, sparse, but persistent species increased slightly in coverage over time but with accompanying high variability so that regional stability over time is maintained by local unpredictability. Summer abundance on average appears to follow a 2 to 3 yr increase, then a single year’s precipitous decrease over the 14 yr of our summer observations. Based upon the results from this long-term and thorough data set, we propose a new model of asynchronous, ‘pulsating patches’ in both space and time for describing the long-term survival strategy of H. johnsonii.

KEY WORDS: Halophila johnsonii · Seagrass · Indian River Lagoon · Seagrass transects · Spatial dynamics · Temporal dynamics · Pulsating patches · Effect size · Long-term monitoring

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Cite this article as: Virnstein RW, Hayek LC, Morris LJ (2009) Pulsating patches: a model for the spatial and temporal dynamics of the threatened seagrass Halophila johnsonii. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 385:97-109.

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