, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 688-700
Date: 17 May 2008

Ecosystem Structure and Function Still Altered Two Decades After Short-Term Fertilization of a Seagrass Meadow

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Abstract

An oligotrophic phosphorus (P) limited seagrass ecosystem in Florida Bay was experimentally fertilized in a unique way. Perches were installed to encourage seabirds to roost and deliver an external source of nutrients via defecation. Two treatments were examined: (1) a chronic 23-year fertilization and (2) an earlier 28-month fertilization that was discontinued when the chronic treatment was initiated. Because of the low mobility of P in carbonate sediments, we hypothesized long-term changes to ecosystem structure and function in both treatments. Structural changes in the chronic treatment included a shift in the dominant seagrass species from Thalassia testudinum to Halodule wrightii, large increases in epiphytic biomass and sediment chlorophyll-a, and a decline in species richness. Functional changes included increased benthic metabolism and quantum efficiency. Initial changes in the 28-month fertilization were similar, but after 23 years of nutrient depuration T. testudinum has reestablished itself as the dominant species. However, P remains elevated in the sediment and H. wrightii has maintained a presence. Functionally the discontinued treatment remains altered. Biomass exceeds that in the chronic treatment and indices of productivity, elevated relative to control, are not different from the chronic fertilization. Cessation of nutrient loading has resulted in a superficial return to the pre-disturbance character of the community, but due to the nature of P cycles functional changes persist.