Eelgrass fairy rings: sulfide as inhibiting agent
Distinct ‘fairy rings’ consisting of narrow fringes of eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) expand radially over a bottom of chalk plates outside the calcium carbonate cliffs of the island of Møn, Denmark. We conducted a survey to evaluate possible explanations for the formation of the rings and, more specifically, for the apparent die-off of eelgrass shoots on the inner side of the rings. The fairy rings were up to 15 m in diameter consisting of 0.3- to 1-m-wide zones of sea grass shoots at densities of up to 1,200 shoots m−2 and rooted in an up to 10-cm-thick sediment layer. On the outer side, shoots expanded over the bare chalk plates. On the inner side, shoots were smaller, had lower absolute and specific leaf growth, shoot density was lower and the sediment eroded leaving the bare chalk with scattered boulders behind. Sediment organic matter and nutrients and tissue nutrient contents were not different among positions. Sediment pools of acid volatile sulfides and chromium-reducible sulfur increased from outer to the middle positions of the rings, and so did total sulfur content of eelgrass tissues, while tissue δ34S isotope ratios, regardless of position in the fringes, were low reflecting substantial invasion of sulfide from the sediment. Neither the clonal growth pattern of eelgrass, sediment burial of shoots, hydrodynamic forcing nor nutrient limitation could explain the ring-shaped pattern. We conclude that the most likely explanation must be found in invasion of eelgrass shoots by toxic sulfide accumulating in the sediment due to low iron availability in the carbonate-rich environment.