Relative importance of trophic interactions and nutrient enrichment in seagrass ecosystems: A broad-scale field experiment in the Baltic-Skagerrak area

Baden, Susanne, Christoffer Boström, Stefan Tobiasson, Heidi Arponen, and Per-Olav Moksnes

Limnol. Oceanogr., 55(3), 2010, 1435-1448 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2010.55.3.1435

ABSTRACT: The interaction of eutrophication and predation in structuring seagrass Zostera marina L. ecosystems was assessed in a field experiment in three regions along an estuarine salinity gradient, from southern Finland to the Skagerrak area of the Swedish west coast. All regions are considered to be affected by eutrophication and overfishing but differ in the abundance of intermediate predators (e.g., small fish, shrimp, and crabs), mesograzers, and the biomass of epiphytic algae. Using transplanted Zostera (eelgrass), nutrient levels and intermediate predator abundance were manipulated in a full-factorial cage experiment. On the Swedish west coast, where ambient densities of mesograzers are very low, epiphytic algae responded strongly to nutrient enrichment, resulting in significantly reduced growth of eelgrass. At the Baltic sites however, where ambient densities of mesograzers are high, no significant growth of epiphytic algae was detected, and only grazer biomass responded to nutrient enrichment. Predation from small fish, shrimp, and crabs decreased the biomass of mesograzers by > 98% on the Swedish west coast, but natural predators had no significant effect on mesograzers biomass at the Baltic sites. Predation and nutrient enrichment interacted to affect the growth of eelgrass by controlling the biomass of mesograzers and nuisance algae. The differing effect of nutrient enrichment and grazing in the three regions may therefore be a result of the prevailing low and high predation pressure on mesograzers in Zostera. This absence or presence of predation may derive from interregional changes in trophic interactions, possibly caused by a combination of eutrophication and overfishing.

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