Distribution, structure and function of Nordic eelgrass (Zostera marina) ecosystems: implications for coastal management and conservation

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ABSTRACT

  1. This paper focuses on the marine foundation eelgrass species, Zostera marina, along a gradient from the northern Baltic Sea to the north-east Atlantic. This vast region supports a minimum of 1480 km2 eelgrass (maximum >2100 km2), which corresponds to more than four times the previously quantified area of eelgrass in Western Europe.
  2. Eelgrass meadows in the low salinity Baltic Sea support the highest diversity (4–6 spp.) of angiosperms overall, but eelgrass productivity is low (<2 g dw m-2 d-1) and meadows are isolated and genetically impoverished. Higher salinity areas support monospecific meadows, with higher productivity (3–10 g dw m-2 d-1) and greater genetic connectivity. The salinity gradient further imposes functional differences in biodiversity and food webs, in particular a decline in number, but increase in biomass of mesograzers in the Baltic.
  3. Significant declines in eelgrass depth limits and areal cover are documented, particularly in regions experiencing high human pressure. The failure of eelgrass to re-establish itself in affected areas, despite nutrient reductions and improved water quality, signals complex recovery trajectories and calls for much greater conservation effort to protect existing meadows.
  4. The knowledge base for Nordic eelgrass meadows is broad and sufficient to establish monitoring objectives across nine national borders. Nevertheless, ensuring awareness of their vulnerability remains challenging. Given the areal extent of Nordic eelgrass systems and the ecosystem services they provide, it is crucial to further develop incentives for protecting them.

© 2014 The Authors. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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