, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 422-434

Experimental nutrient enrichment causes complex changes in seagrass, microalgae, and macroalgae community structure in Florida Bay

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Abstract

We examined the spatial extent of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) limitation of each of the major benthic primary producer groups in Florida Bay (seagrass, epiphytes, macroalgae, and benthic microalgae) and characterized the shifts in primary producer community composition following nutrient enrichment. We established 24 permanent 0.25-m2 study plots at each of six sites across. Florida Bay and added N and P to the sediments in a factorial design for 18 mo. Tissue nutrient content of the turtlegrassThalassia testudinum revealed a spatial pattern in P limitation, from severe limitation in the eastern bay (N:P>96:1), moderate limitation in two intermediate sites (approximately 63:1), and balanced with N availability in the western bay (approximately 31:1). P addition increasedT. testudinum cover by 50–75% and short-shoot productivity by up to 100%, but only at the severely P-limited sites. At sites with an ambient N:P ratio suggesting moderate P limitation, few seagrass responses to nutrients occurred. Where ambientT. testudinum tissue N:P ratios indicated N and P availability was balanced, seagrass was not affected by nutrient addition but was strongly influenced by disturbance (currents, erosion). Macroalgal and epiphytic and benthic microalgal biomass were variable between sites and treatments. In general, there was no algal overgrowth of the seagrass in enriched conditions, possibly due to the strength of seasonal influences on algal biomass or regulation by grazers., N addition had little effect on any benthic primary producers throughout the bay. The Florida Bay benthic primary producer community was P limited, but P-induced alterations of community structure were not uniform among primary producers or across Florida Bay and did not always agree with expected patterns of nutrient limitation based on stoichiometric predictions from field assays ofT. testudinum tissue, N:P ratios.