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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 444:43-56 (2012)  -  DOI:

Characterization and ecological implication of ­eelgrass life history strategies near the species’ southern limit in the western North Atlantic

Jessie C. Jarvis1,3,*, Kenneth A. Moore1, W. Judson Kenworthy2

1Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
2Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, NCCOS, NOS, NOAA, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
3Present address: The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Galloway, New Jersey 08205-9441, USA

ABSTRACT: Eelgrass Zostera marina L. populations located near the species southern limit in the western North Atlantic were assessed monthly from July 2007 through November 2008. We identified (1) dominant life history strategies and local environmental conditions in southern Z. marina populations, (2) quantified differences in reproductive phenology between populations and different local environmental conditions, and (3) compared reproductive strategies to established annual and perennial life history paradigms. Observed populations expressed both life history strategies with one Z. marina population completely losing aboveground biomass and reestablishing from seeds (annual model) while another population retained aboveground biomass throughout the year (perennial model). A third life history strategy, characterized here as a mixed-annual population, was also observed after some seedlings were found to reproduce both sexually and asexually during their first year of growth thereby not conforming to any currently established life history paradigm. Development of multiple life history strategies within this region may be in response to stressful summer water temperatures associated with the southern edge of the species’ range. We suggest that neither annual nor perennial life history strategies always provide a superior mechanism for population persistence as perennial populations can be susceptible to multiple consecutive years of stress, and annual populations are unable to fully exploit available resources throughout much of the year. The mixed-annual strategy observed here represents another possible life history model which may provide the mechanism necessary for Z. marina populations to persist during times of environmental transition.

KEY WORDS: Zostera marina · Life-history · Annual · Perennial · Seed bank · Biomass

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Cite this article as: Jarvis JC, Moore KA, Kenworthy WJ (2012) Characterization and ecological implication of ­eelgrass life history strategies near the species’ southern limit in the western North Atlantic. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 444:43-56.

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