Mechanisms and ecological role of carbon transfer within coastal seascapes
Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Natural Sciences/Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
Worldwide, coastal systems provide some of the most productive habitats, which potentially influence a range of marine and terrestrial ecosystems through the transfer of nutrients and energy. Several reviews have examined aspects of connectivity within coastal seascapes, but the scope of those reviews has been limited to single systems or single vectors. We use the transfer of carbon to examine the processes of connectivity through multiple vectors in multiple ecosystems using four coastal seascapes as case studies. We discuss and compare the main vectors of carbon connecting different ecosystems, and then the natural and human-induced factors that influence the magnitude of effect for those vectors on recipient systems. Vectors of carbon transfer can be grouped into two main categories: detrital particulate organic carbon (POC) and its associated dissolved organic and inorganic carbon (DOC/DIC) that are transported passively; and mobile consumers that transport carbon actively. High proportions of net primary production can be exported over meters to hundreds of kilometers from seagrass beds, algal reefs and mangroves as POC, with its export dependent on wind-generated currents in the first two of these systems and tidal currents for the last. By contrast, saltmarshes export large quantities of DOC through tidal movement, while land run-off plays a critical role in the transport of terrestrial POC and DOC into temperate fjords. Nekton actively transfers carbon across ecosystem boundaries through foraging movements, ontogenetic migrations, or ‘trophic relays’, into and out of seagrass beds, mangroves or saltmarshes. The magnitude of these vectors is influenced by: the hydrodynamics and geomorphology of the region; the characteristics of the carbon vector, such as their particle size and buoyancy; and for nekton, the extent and frequency of migrations between ecosystems. Through a risk-assessment process, we have identified the most significant human disturbances that affect the integrity of connectivity among ecosystems. Loss of habitat, net primary production (NPP) and overfishing pose the greatest risks to carbon transfer in temperate saltmarsh and tropical estuaries, particularly through their effects on nekton abundance and movement. In comparison, habitat/NPP loss and climate change are likely to be the major risks to carbon transfer in temperate fjords and temperate open coasts through alteration in the amount of POC and/or DOC/DIC being transported. While we have highlighted the importance of these vectors in coastal seascapes, there is limited quantitative data on the effects of these vectors on recipient systems. It is only through quantifying those subsidies that we can effectively incorporate complex interactions into the management of the marine environment and its resources.