Jackson Estuarine Laboratory


Outdoor mesocosm experiments were used to examine the response of eelgrass communities to excess nutrient loading and reduced light that simulated coastal eutrophication. A series of replicated manipulations conducted between 1988 and 1990 demonstrated the effects of reduced available light and increased loading of nitrogen plus phosphorus on habitats dominated by eelgrass Zostera marina L. Shade and nutrients each significantly affected eelgrass growth, morphology, density, and biomass. We found no significant interactions between the effects of shade and the effects of nutrients on any plant characteristics except leaf length. The growth rate of individual eelgrass shoots was linearly related to light, increasing throughout the range of available light. Biomass and daily biomass increase, or areal growth, were also linearly related to light, but specific growth showed no response to light. Shoot density increased with the log of light. Excess nutrient loading was shown to significantly reduce eelgrass growth and bed structure through stimulation of various forms of algae that effectively competed with eelgrass for light. The absence of significant interactions between the effects of shade and nutrients on eelgrass density, growth, and biomass suggests that the negative effect of algae on eelgrass occurs primarily through the reduction of light (i.e. shading). The outcome of nutrient enrichment was a shift in plant dominance from eelgrass to three algal forms: phytoplankton, epiphytic algae, and macroalgae. We quantified the effects of eutrophication and demonstrated that increased nutrient loading results in less light for eelgrass and that eelgrass growth linearly decreases with reduced light.


Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Natural Resources and the Environment

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Limnology and Oceanography



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© 1995, by the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, Inc.