Seagrass die-off in Florida Bay: Long-term trends in abundance and growth of turtle grass,Thalassia testudinum
- Cite this article as:
- Zieman, J.C., Fourqurean, J.W. & Frankovich, T.A. Estuaries (1999) 22: 460. doi:10.2307/1353211
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Beginning in late 1987 Florida Bay experienced a large and unprecedented die-off ofThalassia testudinum. The die-off occurred only in stands of denseT. testudinum. We initiated an experimental monitoring effort in 1989 to attempt to ascertain the cause of this die-off phenomenon. From 1989 to 1995 the abundance and productivity ofT. testudinum was measured at five stations associated with the seagrass die-off and three stations where no die-off had occurred (including one on the seaside of Key Largo, outside of Florida Bay). Early in the study the salinity was very high, exceeding 46 psu, but it has decreased to 29–38 psu in recent years. Seagrass standing crop and either short-shoot density or mass per short shoot declined at nearly all stations, including the stations without die-off (unaffected stations). Over the course of the study, areal productivity declined at three die-off stations; but mass-specific productivity increased at all die-off stations and one unaffected station. Seasonality was pronounced; detrended standardized residuals showed responses for all of the seagrass parameters to be greater than the yearly mean in spring and summer and less than the mean in fall and winter. Detrended residuals also showed decreased productivity to be correlated with increased salinities in the summer despite a long-term record of declining salinities. We propose a conceptual model of the seagrass die-off phenomenon. We document that salinity does contribute to stress onT. testudinum in Florida Bay, but salinity is believed to be only one contributing factor to the loss of seagrasses. The documented increase in the mass-specific productivity ofT. testudinum over the period 1989–1995 suggests seagrasses are growing rapidly in Florida Bay by 1995; we predict that the loss ofT. testudinum may be slowing down and that recovery is possible.