, Volume 23, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 67-74

Dynamics of a subtropical seagrass landscape: links between disturbance and mobile seed banks

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Abstract

Disturbance is a well known modifier of landscapes. In marine systems hurricanes may not only remove or bury subtidal seagrasses but they may also impact the seed banks of these taxa. We ask whether seagrass landscape pattern and seed dispersal are influenced by physical disturbance in a subtropical deep water setting. We examined the spatial dynamics of an offshore landscape composed of the seagrass, Halophila decipiens in summer 1999 and again in 2000 after the passage of a hurricane. A towed video camera was used to collect data within a 1 km2 area and construct benthic maps of seagrass, macroalgae, hard bottom outcrops, and sediments from over 20,000 video frames. The appearance of sand and seagrass at a portion of the site in summer 2000 that was previously hard substrate verified sediment and seed movement. Although seeds released by this seagrass are deposited into sediments near parent plants, movement en masse of the seagrass seed reservoir appears to be an important component of dispersal. The generation of new landscape patches when disturbance is large and intense suggests that large-scale disturbance, resulting in the local redistribution of sediment and the seed bank, appears to mold the spatial signature of the resulting seagrass landscape in a MidShelf area. This impact of physical disturbance differs from that previously reported for factors influencing spatial arrangements of seagrass in shallow waters but has some features similar to those of large infrequent disturbances studied in terrestrial settings.