, Volume 649, Issue 1, pp 55-68
Date: 11 May 2010

The role of seedlings and seed bank viability in the recovery of Chesapeake Bay, USA, Zostera marina populations following a large-scale decline

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Abstract

The objective of this study was to quantify the spatial and temporal recolonization characteristics of Zostera marina beds in the lower Chesapeake Bay following large scale declines in the late summer of 2005. Transects were established and monitored monthly for changes in eelgrass abundance at three sites (two downriver, one upriver) in the York River from April–October 2006 and 2007. Measurements included percent bottom cover, above ground biomass, shoot density, shoot origin (seedling or vegetative), seed bank abundance and seed viability. During 2006, the eelgrass beds at all sites recovered with seedlings providing the largest proportion of the total shoot abundance. This trend shifted in 2007 and surviving vegetative shoots were the dominant component of shoot standing crop. A second consecutive decline related to low light conditions occurred during the summer of 2006 in the upriver site and recovery there was minimal in 2007. These results highlight that after a single die off event, seed germination with subsequent seedling growth is the principal method for revegetation in lower Chesapeake Bay Z. marina beds. However, no viable seeds remain in the seed bank during this first year of recovery and shoots produced by the seedling growth do not flower and produce seeds until their second year of growth. Therefore the seed-bank density is low and is not immediately replenished. This suggests that the resiliency of perennial Chesapeake Bay Z. marina populations to repeated disturbances is restricted and repeated annual stress may result in much longer term bed loss.

Guest editors: M. Holmer & N. Marbà / Dynamics and functions of seagrass ecosystems.
Note: Contribution number 3055 from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, VA, USA.