, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp 1198–1210 | Cite as

Trophic Transfers from Seagrass Meadows Subsidize Diverse Marine and Terrestrial Consumers

  • Kenneth L. Heck Jr.Email author
  • Tim J. B. Carruthers
  • Carlos M. Duarte
  • A. Randall Hughes
  • Gary Kendrick
  • Robert J. Orth
  • Susan W. Williams


In many coastal locations, seagrass meadows are part of a greater seascape that includes both marine and terrestrial elements, each linked to the other via the foraging patterns of consumers (both predators and herbivores), and the passive drift of seagrass propagules, leaves, roots and rhizomes, and seagrass-associated macroalgal detritus. With seagrasses declining in many regions, the linkages between seagrass meadows and other habitats are being altered and diminished. Thus, it is timely to summarize what is known about the prevalence and magnitude of cross-habitat exchanges of seagrass-derived energy and materials, and to increase awareness of the importance of seagrasses to adjacent and even distant habitats. To do so we examined the literature on the extent and importance of exchanges of biomass between seagrass meadows and other habitats, both in the form of exported seagrass biomass as well as transfers of animal biomass via migration. Data were most abundant for Caribbean coral reefs and Australian beaches, and organisms for which there were quantitative estimates included Caribbean fishes and North American migratory waterfowl. Overall, data from the studies we reviewed clearly showed that seagrass ecosystems provide a large subsidy to both near and distant locations through the export of particulate organic matter and living plant and animal biomass. The consequences of continuing seagrass decline thus extend far beyond the areas where seagrasses grow.


seagrass connectivity trophic subsidy consumers 



We thank our colleagues in the Global Seagrass Trajectories Working Group, which is supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by NSF (Grant #DEB-00-72909), the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the State of California. We also thank Dr. Just Cebrian, who kindly provided the information contained in Table 1, Dottie Byron whose comments significantly improved the manuscript and Carolyn Wood who prepared the final draft of this manuscript. This is Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California-Davis Contribution Number 2428, Dauphin Island Sea Lab Contribution Number 394, UMCES Contribution Number 4219, and VIMS Contribution Number 2966.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth L. Heck Jr.
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tim J. B. Carruthers
    • 2
  • Carlos M. Duarte
    • 3
  • A. Randall Hughes
    • 4
  • Gary Kendrick
    • 5
  • Robert J. Orth
    • 6
  • Susan W. Williams
    • 4
  1. 1.Dauphin Island Sea Lab and University of South AlabamaDauphin IslandUSA
  2. 2.Integration and Application NetworkThe University of Maryland Center for Environmental ScienceCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Instituto Mediterraneo de Estudios Avanzados, IMEDEACSIC-Univ. Illes BalearsEsporlesSpain
  4. 4.Bodega Marine LaboratoryUniversity of CaliforniaBodega BayUSA
  5. 5.School of Plant BiologyUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  6. 6.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceCollege of William and MaryGloucester PointUSA

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