Annual cycle of biomass of a threatened population of the intertidal seagrass Zostera japonica in Hong Kong
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The phenology and primary productivity of a population of Zostera japonica (Aschers. & Graebn.) threatened by the construction of Hong Kong's new international airport were studied over a 12-month period. The need to conserve the population, and the small leaf size of Z. japonica rendered traditional destructive or marking techniques inapplicable for percentage cover and biomass estimation. A nondestructive method based on image analysis techniques was therefore devised for repeated estimation of percentage cover, biomass and leaf area index. This technique, which involved random quadrat sampling, photographic recording and image analysis, was able to provide data on the three parameters with acceptable precision and was cost-effective in the field. Z. japonica demonstrated a strongly seasonal cycle of vegetative growth, with different patterns for leaf density (peak in March) and overall bed area (peak in June). Total (above- and below-ground) net primary productivity was estimated at between 344 and 688 g AFDW m−2 yr−1. Percentage cover of Z. japonica was negatively correlated with total suspended solids (TSS) in the water column while total bed area was negatively correlated with water salinity. Increased sedimentation associated with the new airport project was identified as one important factor affecting the growth of the seagrass, as TSS reached the high level of ≈1 g DW l−1 during the first half of the study period. Sediment traps set in the beds also recorded potential sedimentation rates at between 2.89 and 14.5 mg cm−2 d−1. This high turbidity resulted in a sharp decrease in the density of Clithon spp., the dominant grazers of epiphytic algae on Z. japonica. Effects of sedimentation and shading on growth of Z. japonica were investigated by field manipulative experiments. Experimental increase of sedimentation rate and shade both resulted in larger decreases in percentage cover and above-ground AFDW compared with the control.
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