Impact of seagrass establishment, industrialization and coastal infrastructure on seagrass biogeochemical sinks
Marine Environmental Research
School of Science / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
ECU Faculty Research Grant Scheme
Australian Research Council
ARC Number : DE170101524
The study of a Posidonia sinuosa sedimentary archive has delivered a millenary record of environmental change in Cockburn Sound (Western Australia). Ecosystem change is a major environmental problem challenging sustainable coastal development worldwide, and this study shows baseline trends and shifts in ecological processes in coastal ecosystems under environmental stress. The concentrations and fluxes of biogeochemical elements over the last 3,500 years indicate that important changes in ecosystem dynamics occurred over the last 1,000 years, in particular after ~1900's, probably related to establishment of seagrass meadows in the area and to local and regional human activities (industry and coastal development), respectively. The establishment of seagrasses ~1,000 years ago in the area of study is supported by the appearance of Posidonia fibres from ~40 cm soil depth until the core top, higher δ13C values indicating a larger contribution of seagrass-matter to the soil organic carbon pool, and increased concentration of fine sediments driven by the effect of seagrass canopy in enhancing sedimentation. The comparison of organic carbon, nutrients and metal concentrations and fluxes between pre- and post-establishment of seagrasses shows that seagrass establishment resulted in up to 9-fold increase in the soil biogeochemical sink. In ~1900's, shifts in the concentrations of metals, carbonates, organic carbon, sediment grain size, and δ13C and δ15N values of the organic matter were detected, demonstrating an alteration in seagrass ecosystem functioning following the onset of European settlement. Anthropogenic activities, and in particular the construction of a causeway in 1970's, enhanced seagrass soil organic carbon and metal accumulation rates by 36- and 39-fold, respectively, showing that human-made structures can enhance the biogeochemical sink capacity of seagrasses. Here we reconstruct the impact of human activities on seagrass ecosystem dynamics and blue carbon, which can inform local management of Cockburn Sound and seagrass conservation for climate change mitigation and adaptation.