In coastal waters and estuaries, seagrass meadows are often subject to light deprivation over short time scales (days to weeks) in response to increased turbidity from anthropogenic disturbances. Seagrasses may exhibit negative physiological responses to light deprivation and suffer stress, or tolerate such stresses through photo-adaptation of physiological processes allowing more efficient use of low light. Pulse Amplitude Modulated (PAM) fluorometery has been used to rapidly assess changes in photosynthetic responses along in situ gradients in light. In this study, however, light is experimentally manipulated in the field to examine the photosynthesis of Halophila ovalis and Zostera capricorni. We aimed to evaluate the tolerance of these seagrasses to short-term light reductions. The seagrasses were subject to four light treatments, 0, 5, 60, and 90% shading, for a period of 14 days. In both species, as shading increased the photosynthetic variables significantly (P < 0.05) decreased by up to 40% for maximum electron transport rates (ETRmax) and 70% for saturating irradiances (Ek). Photosynthetic efficiencies (α) and effective quantum yields (ΔF/Fm′) increased significantly (P < 0.05), in both species, for 90% shaded plants compared with 0% shaded plants. H. ovalis was more sensitive to 90% shading than Z. capricorni, showing greater reductions in ETRmax, indicative of a reduced photosynthetic capacity. An increase in Ek, Fm′ and ΔF/Fm′ for H. ovalis and Z. capricorni under 90% shading suggested an increase in photochemical efficiency and a more efficient use of low-photon flux, consistent with photo-acclimation to shading. Similar responses were found along a depth gradient from 0 to10 m, where depth related changes in ETRmax and Ek in H. ovalis implied a strong difference of irradiance history between depths of 0 and 5–10 m. The results suggest that H. ovalis is more vulnerable to light deprivation than Z. capricorni and that H. ovalis, at depths of 5–10 m, would be more vulnerable to light deprivation than intertidal populations. Both species showed a strong degree of photo-adaptation to light manipulation that may enable them to tolerate and adapt to short-term reductions in light. These consistent responses to changes in light suggest that photosynthetic variables can be used to rapidly assess the status of seagrasses when subjected to sudden and prolonged periods of reduced light.
Photosynthetically Active Radiation Photosynthetic Efficiency Electron Transport Rate Shade Treatment Depth Gradient
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This work was conducted as part of a Ph.D. degree in the School of Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University. The work was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award (Industry) from the Australian Research Council and Industry partners, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland, Parks and Wildlife Service (Environment Protection Authority) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The appropriate permit, required to remove seagrasses in Queensland, was obtained from the Queensland Department of Industries and Fisheries. The authors would like to acknowledge S. Kerville and D. Foster for their technical and field assistance.
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