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Keywords:

  • Germination;
  • reproduction;
  • Ria Formosa;
  • seedlings;
  • seeds;
  • Zostera marina

Abstract

The plant reproductive effort, the seed germination rate and the seedling survival and development of Zostera marina (eelgrass) were assessed in four populations (Fuzeta, Culatra, Barrinha and Armona) at the species’ southern distribution limit in the Eastern Atlantic, the Ria Formosa lagoon. Germinated seeds were individually placed in Petri dishes with natural sandy sediments and kept in a culture chamber at the same temperature and salinity conditions as the natural environment. In addition, seeds from three different depths of Fuzeta population were cultivated in outdoor mesocosms. The populations of Fuzeta and Barrinha showed higher seed production and the seeds produced were heavier than the other populations. The germination of the seeds both in the laboratory and in the outdoor tanks began c. 8–12 weeks after the collection of the flowering shoots at a water temperature of 22 °C. The spontaneous germination in the laboratory (2.4–5.3%) and in the mesocosm experiment (5.6–8.9%) was low and from all the germinated seeds (n = 20) only three reached the seedling stage. The spontaneously germinated seeds from Fuzeta survived for a longer period than those from Barrinha, but only the germinated seeds of Barrinha reached the seedling stage (one-leaf seedling stage). In outdoor tanks, higher seed germination and earlier seedling emergence (2 weeks after seeding) and survival (for 208 days) occurred for the seeds obtained from the shallow meadow. The reproductive effort of Z. marina populations of Ria Formosa showed that flowering shoots and seed traits are site-specific. The low reproductive success indicated by the low germination and seedling survival suggests a bottleneck in the species’ reproductive cycle that may account for the scarce presence of the species in Ria Formosa lagoon. The high water temperatures of Ria Formosa in winter may partly explain this bottleneck. Increased temperatures due to climate change may reduce even further the sexual reproduction of Z. marina in its southern distributional limit in the Eastern Atlantic.