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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 448:209-221 (2012)  -  DOI:

Recovery trajectories during state change from bare sediment to eelgrass dominance

Karen J. McGlathery1,*, Laura K. Reynolds1, Luke W. Cole1, Robert J. Orth2, Scott R. Marion2, Arthur Schwarzschild

1Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, PO Box 400123, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA
2Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine Science, 1208 Greate Road, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

ABSTRACT: Seagrasses are important foundation species in shallow coastal ecosystems that provide critical ecosystem services including stabilizing sediment, sequestering carbon and nutrients, and providing habitat and an energy source for a diverse fauna. We followed the recovery of functional (primary productivity, carbon and nitrogen sequestration, sediment deposition) and structural (shoot density, biomass, plant morphometrics) attributes of Zostera marina (eelgrass) meadows in replicate large plots (0.2 to 0.4 ha) restored by seeding in successive years, resulting in a chronosequence of sites from 0 (unvegetated) to 9 yr since seeding. Shoot density was the structural metric that changed most significantly, with an initial 4 yr lag, and a rapid, linear increase in plots 6 to 9 yr after seeding. Changes in Z. marina aerial productivity, sediment organic content, and exchangeable ammonium showed a similar trend with an initial 4 yr lag period before differences were observed from initial bare sediment conditions. After 9 yr, Z. marina meadows had 20× higher rates of areal productivity than 1 to 3 yr old meadows, double the organic matter and exchangeable ammonium concentrations, 3× more carbon and 4× more nitrogen, and had accumulated and retained finer particles than bare, unvegetated sediments. These results demonstrate the reinstatement of key ecosystem services with successful large-scale restoration, although none of the parameters reached an asymptote after 9 yr, indicating that at least a decade is required for these attributes to be fully restored, even in an area with high habitat suitability. Survivorship along a depth gradient showed that ~1.6 m (mean sea level) is the maximum depth limit for Z. marina, which matches the ‘tipping point’ for survival predicted for this system from a non-linear hydrodynamic/seagrass growth model.

KEY WORDS: Eelgrass · Zostera marina · Restoration · Seagrass · Coastal bays · Ecosystem services

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Cite this article as: McGlathery KJ, Reynolds LK, Cole LW, Orth RJ, Marion SR, Schwarzschild A (2012) Recovery trajectories during state change from bare sediment to eelgrass dominance. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 448:209-221.

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