Frontiers in Plant Science
Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research / School of Science
School of Science, Edith Cowan University and by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, Ecological Society of Australia (G1004802)
Herbivore distributions and abundance are shifting because of climate change, leading to intensified grazing pressure on foundation species such as seagrasses. This, combined with rapidly increasing magnitudes of change in estuarine ecosystems, may affect seagrass resilience. While the overall resilience of seagrasses is generally well-studied, the timeframes of recovery has received comparatively little attention, particularly in temperate estuaries. We investigated how the recovery time (RT) of seagrass is affected by simulated grazing in a southwestern Australian estuary. Whilst excluding swans, we simulated different grazing intensities (25, 50, 75, and 100 % removal from 1 m2 plots) at four locations in the Swan-Canning Estuary, Western Australia during summer and tracked the recovery of seagrass over 3 months, using seagrass cover as the main measure of recovery. We found that seagrass recovered within 4–6 weeks from the lower grazing intensities (25 and 50 %) and 7–19 weeks from the higher grazing intensities (75 and 100 %) across the estuary. Increased grazing intensity led to not only longer recovery times (RTs), but also greater variability in the RT among experimental locations. The RT from the higher grazing intensities at one location in particular was more than double other locations. Seagrass recovery was through vegetative mechanisms and not through sexual reproduction. There was a significant grazing treatment effect on seagrass meadow characteristics, particularly belowground biomass which had not recovered 3 months following grazing. As the pressure of climate change on estuarine environments increases, these quantified RTs for seagrass provide a baseline for understanding grazing pressure as a singular disturbance. Future work can now examine how grazing and other potentially interacting pressures in our changing climate could impact seagrass recovery even further.
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