Experimental harvest in a tropical seagrass meadow leads to shift in associated benthic communities
Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
Seagrass meadows represent key ecosystems in coastal areas worldwide, hosting a great biodiversity of associated communities and thereby providing a large range of ecosystem services. In this study we present an experimental approach to investigate the effects of seagrass losses on related macrofauna assemblages. Over a three year period, seagrass canopies were removed in experimental plots and changes in epifauna, infauna and respective functional groups were recorded. The experimental removal of seagrass leaves resulted in a decline of 74% of overall macrofaunal abundance and the loss of several taxa. The immediate response of associated communities was followed by the establishment of an alternative assemblage, characterized by an increased number of bioturbators and deposit feeders. The colonization of disturbed seagrass plots by burrowing shrimps (Callianassidae) might have hindered the reestablishment of seagrass after the removal. Our findings highlight the important role of seagrasses as habitat forming species that provide relevant functioning and services in coastal ecosystems.