Research Article

Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 3, pp 813-822

First online:

The contribution of seagrass beds (Zostera noltii) to the function of tidal flats as a juvenile habitat for dominant, mobile epibenthos in the Wadden Sea

  • Patrick PolteAffiliated withAlfred Wegener Institute for Marine Research Email author 
  • , Anja SchanzAffiliated withAlfred Wegener Institute for Marine Research
  • , Harald AsmusAffiliated withAlfred Wegener Institute for Marine Research

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Since the substantial loss of subtidal eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) in the 1930s, seagrass beds in the Wadden Sea are limited to the intertidal zone and dominated by Z. noltii Hornem. This study deals with the effect of vegetated tidal flats on quantities of mobile epifauna and proves empirically the function of seagrass canopies as a refuge for marine animals remaining in the intertidal zone at ebb tide. Drop-trap samples were taken in the Sylt-Rømø Bight, a shallow tidal basin in the northern Wadden Sea, on vegetated and unvegetated tidal flats during July and August 2002, and during the entire growth period of Z. noltii from May to September in 2003. The species composition in Z. noltii and bare sand flats showed minor differences since only two isopod species (Idotea baltica and I. chelipes) occurred on Z. noltii flats exclusively. Juvenile shore crabs (Carcinus maenas L.), brown shrimps (Crangon crangon L.) and common gobies (Pomatoschistus microps Krøyer) were also found abundantly on bare sand flats. However, the results showed significantly higher abundances and production of these dominant species on vegetated tidal flats. Additionally, the analyses of faunal size classes indicated higher percentages of small individuals in the seagrass bed during the entire sampling period. Despite drastic diurnal fluctuations of dissolved oxygen at low tide, faunal density in the residual water layer remaining in seagrass canopies at ebb tide was found to be consistently higher than that found in artificially created tide-pool units. Although species composition of mobile epifauna did not basically differ between vegetated and unvegetated tidal flats, Z. noltii beds are considered to contribute quantitatively to the function of tidal flats, as an extended juvenile habitat for some of the most important species of the Wadden Sea food web.