Spatial and Temporal Patterns In Thalassia testudinum Leaf Tissue Nutrients at the Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana, USA

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Ocean Science and Engineering


Seagrasses are submerged marine plants that are anchored to the substrate and are therefore limited to assimilating nutrients from the surrounding water column or sediment, or by translocating nutrients from adjacent shoots through the belowground rhizome. As a result, seagrasses have been used as reliable ecosystem indicators of surrounding nutrient conditions. The Chandeleur Islands are a chain of barrier islands in the northern Gulf of Mexico that support the only marine seagrass beds in Louisiana, USA, and are the sole location of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum across nearly 1000 km of the coastline from west Florida to central Texas. Over the past 150 years, the land area of the Chandeleur Islands has decreased by over half, resulting in a decline of seagrass cover. The goals of this study were to characterize the status of a climax seagrass species at the Chandeleur Islands, T. testudinum, in terms of leaf nutrient (nitrogen [N] and phosphorus [P]) changes over time, from 1998 to 2015, and to assess potential drivers of leaf nutrient content. Thalassia testudinum leaf nutrients displayed considerable interannual variability in N and P content and molar ratios, which broadly mimicked patterns in annual average dissolved nutrient concentrations in the lower Mississippi River. Hydrological modeling demonstrated the potential for multiple scenarios that would deliver Mississippi River water, and thus nutrients, to T. testudinum at the Chandeleur Islands. Although coastal eutrophication is generally accepted as the proximate cause for seagrass loss globally, there is little evidence that nutrient input from the Mississippi River has driven the dramatic declines observed in seagrasses at the Chandeleur Islands. Rather, seagrass cover along the Chandeleur Islands appears to be strongly influenced by island geomorphological processes. Although variable over time, the often elevated nutrient levels of the climax seagrass species, T. testudinum, which are potentially driven by river-derived nutrient inputs, raises an important consideration of the potential loss of the ecosystem functions and services associated with these declining seagrass meadows.

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Estuaries and Coasts



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