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Keywords:

  • Belize;
  • epiphytes;
  • eutrophication;
  • Foraminifera;
  • seabirds;
  • seagrass

Abstract

Eutrophication from a variety of anthropogenic sources is an increasingly prevalent problem in coastal waters, and is one of the factors contributing to the decline of seagrass ecosystems worldwide. This study investigated the impact of natural nutrient enrichment derived from nesting seabird colonies on Man O'War Cay, Belize, on the epiphytic foraminiferal communities living on the seagrass Thalasssia testudinum. Man O'War Cay, a small mangrove island in the central region of the barrier reef complex, hosts nesting colonies of magnificent frigate birds and brown boobies. Epiphytic foraminiferans were surveyed from five stations spaced at 10-m intervals along a 40-m transect in a seagrass meadow located off the eastern end of the island (March 2004). Low species diversity and high dominance of the encrusting, dendritic species Cornuspiramia antillarum characterized the epiphytic foraminiferal biota. Species diversity, as measured by the Shannon's H, and evenness, as measured by Buzas–Gibson's E, decreased in an offshore direction. The density of individuals per square centimeter of blade, however, increased in an offshore direction, with the lowest values observed at the station closest to the island, and the highest values recorded at the station farthest from the shore. The results obtained in this study indicate that epiphytic foraminiferal populations respond to nutrient enrichment, and thus may be useful indicators of ecosystem decline in subtropical–tropical, oligotrophic marine habitats.