, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 414-429
Date: 15 Nov 2012

Spatio-Temporal Patterns of Submerged Macrophytes in Three Hydrologically Altered Mediterranean Coastal Lagoons

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Rice cultivation in the Ebro Delta (Catalonia, Spain) has inverted the natural hydrological cycles of coastal lagoons and decreased water salinities for over 150 years. Adjustments in the water management practices—in terms of source and amount of freshwater inputs—have resulted in changes in the diversity, distribution and productivity of submerged angiosperms. Between the 1970s and late 1980s, a massive decline of the aquatic vegetation occurred in the Encanyissada–Clot and Tancada lagoons, but little information on the status is available after the recovery of macrophytes in the 1990s. Here, we evaluate the influence of salinity regimes resulting from current water management practices on the composition, distribution, seasonal abundance and flowering rates of submersed macrophytes, as well as on the occurrence of epiphyte and drift macroalgae blooms in three coastal lagoons. Our results show that Ruppia cirrhosa is the dominant species in the Encanyissada lagoon (185.97 ± 29.74 g DW m−2 year−1; 12–27 ‰ salinity) and the only plant species found in the Tancada lagoon (53.26 ± 10.94 g DW m2 year−1; 16–28 ‰ salinity). Flowering of R. cirrhosa (up to 1,011 ± 121 flowers m−2) was only observed within the Encanyissada and suggests that mesohaline summer conditions may favor these events. In contrast, low salinities in Clot lagoon (∼3–12 ‰) favor the development of Potamogeton pectinatus (130.53 ± 13.79 g DW m2 year−1) with intersperse R. cirrhosa (8.58 ± 1.71 g DW m−2) and mixed stands of P. pectinatus and Najas marina (up to ∼57 g DW m−2 year−1) in some reduced areas. The peak biomasses observed during the study are 88 to 95 % lower than maximum values reported in the literature at similar salinities, and there is also little or no recovery in some areas compared to last reports more than 20 years ago. The main management actions to restore the natural diversity and productivity of submersed angiosperms, such as the recovering of the seagrass Zostera noltii, should be the increase of salinity during the period of rice cultivation, by reducing freshwater inputs and increasing flushing connections with the bays.