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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 448:197-207 (2012)  -  DOI:

Seedling establishment in eelgrass: seed burial effects on winter losses of developing seedlings

Scott R. Marion*, Robert J. Orth

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

ABSTRACT: Constraints on the transition of seeds to seedlings have the potential to control plant dispersal and persistence. We investigated the processes leading to low initial seedling establishment in eelgrass Zostera marina through a manipulative field experiment assessing the relative importance of germination failure and seedling loss during the winter. Seed plots were established in October at 3 unvegetated sites in the Chesapeake Bay (USA) region, with seeds either at the sediment surface or buried at 2 to 3 cm. Emerging seedlings were monitored at 6 wk intervals between December and April using a video camera, and seed germination was tracked in separate destructively-sampled plots. Sediment height change was measured, and sediment disturbance depth was estimated by deploying cores layered with tracer particles and examining tracer loss upon core retrieval. We found a low rate of seedling establishment 6 mo after seeding (1.2, 3.8, and 2.8% for surface seeds at the 3 sites) that was largely due to seed and seedling loss rather than to germination failure, with 90% of seeds retrieved after December having germinated. Seed burial significantly enhanced seedling establishment at 2 of 3 sites (40.4, 16.8, and 10.3% establishment for buried seeds). Seed loss occurred mostly within the first month of the experiment, and was most severe for seeds at the sediment surface. Indicator core results showed widespread disturbance of sediments to depths that could have dislodged early seedlings developing from surface seeds, and to a lesser degree seedlings from buried seeds. Our findings help identify the nature and timing of a substantial Z. marina seedling establishment bottleneck in our region, and show that some of the key processes pivotal to Z. marina recruitment dynamics and optimal restoration strategies involve physical sediment−seedling interactions rather than seed germination.

KEY WORDS: Seagrass · Recruitment limitation · SAV restoration · Sediment disturbance · Wave energy · Germination · Seed burial

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Cite this article as: Marion SR, Orth RJ (2012) Seedling establishment in eelgrass: seed burial effects on winter losses of developing seedlings. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 448:197-207.

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