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Population dynamics and production of the seagrass Zostera noltii in colonizing versus established meadows


Susana Cabaço, Marine Plant Ecology Research Group (ALGAE), Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal.


The dynamics of the seagrass Zostera noltii in established and colonizing meadows were assessed in Ria Formosa lagoon, Southern Portugal. Shoot weight, above:belowground biomass ratio, flowering shoot density, meadow production, and biomass–density relationships were investigated. Results indicate that the species population dynamics differ clearly in different development stages of the meadows. The overall mean of flowering shoot density was five times higher in the colonizing (83 flowering shoots m−2) than in the established meadow (16 flowering shoots m−2), revealing a greater contribution of sexual reproduction during the species colonization process. The temporal variation of the biomass–density relationship in the colonizing meadow showed a cyclic seasonal trajectory, a wider range of data, and a simultaneous peak of biomass and density, suggesting no space limitations constraining the internal packing of shoots during the growing season. In the established meadow, density peaked before biomass in agreement to the dominant role of the clonal architecture of seagrasses in the configuration of closed meadows, suggesting the occurrence of self-thinning and/or regulation of ramet formation. Slope of the biomass–density relationships was similar in the established and colonizing meadows, generally suggesting similar nutritional conditions, regardless of their muddy and sandy sediments. Plants of the colonizing meadow invest mainly on the belowground fraction (above:belowground biomass ratio <1), as meadow expansion is mainly controlled by the elongation of horizontal rhizomes. The annual total production (1163 g C m−2 year−1) and the biomass turnover (34.8 year−1) were also higher in this meadow, corroborating the high investment of the species during the meadow expansion. The faster biomass turnover of the colonizing meadow implies a more limited capacity to accumulate biomass, indicating a greater exportation of organic carbon and nutrients to the coastal area. The different biomass turnover rates suggest different trophic and structural roles of Z. noltii communities in established and colonizing meadows.