Community shifts, alternative stable states, biogeochemical controls and feedbacks in eutrophic coastal lagoons: a brief overview



  • (1)The succession of primary producer communities in coastal lagoons is analysed in the light of the regime shift theory. Pristine coastal lagoons are considered to be dominated by extensive meadows of seagrass species, which are assumed to take advantage of nutrient supply from sediments. An increasing nutrient input is thought to favour phytoplankton and/or epiphytic micro-, macroalgae as well as opportunistic ephemeral macroalgae that coexist with seagrasses. In the latest stages of this succession, the imbalance of phosphorus to nitrogen ratio can favour macroalgal, cyanobacteria and/or picoplankton blooms, often causing dystrophy.
  • (2)The primary causes of shifts and succession in the macrophyte community are nutrient loadings, mainly nitrogen, as well as changes in coastal hydrology or interactions between them. To some extent, in very shallow choked lagoons, benthic vegetation is mainly controlled by loading rates, while in open deep estuaries hydromorphological factors predominate.
  • (3)External stressors/perturbations cause an amplification in benthic biogeochemical processes, e.g. wide variations in primary productivity and dark respiration, with large oscillations in oxygen and sulphide concentrations. Altered biogeochemical processes can determine positive feedbacks inducing a shift from pristine to altered macrophyte communities, which in turn amplify the perturbation until the shift becomes irreversible.
  • (4)Macrophyte typology, organic matter composition and sedimentary geochemistry are primary factors in controlling feedbacks and shifts. For example, the sedimentary buffering capacity of iron controls sulphide and phosphates, while nitrogen cycling is mainly controlled by primary producers - microbial process interactions.
  • (5)The alternative states which occur through the transition from pristine to modified primary producer communities can also be viewed as a sequence of stable states with different degrees of embedded information and with different ecological functions.

Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.