The Role of Eelgrass in Marine Community Interactions and Ecosystem Services: Results from Ecosystem-Scale Food Web Models
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Eelgrass beds provide valuable refuge, foraging, and spawning habitat for many marine species, including valued species such as Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi), and Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister). We used dynamic simulations in a food web model of central Puget Sound, Washington, USA developed in the Ecopath with Ecosim software, to examine how the marine community may respond to changes in coverage of native eelgrass (Zostera marina), and how these modeled responses can be assessed using an ecosystem services framework, expressing these services with economic currencies in some cases and biological proxies in others. Increased eelgrass coverage was most associated with increases in commercial and recreational fishing with some small decreases in one non-market activity, bird watching. When we considered ecosystem service categories that are aggregations of individual groups of species, we saw little evidence of strong tradeoffs among marine resources; that is, increasing eelgrass coverage was essentially either positive or neutral for all services we examined, although we did not examine terrestrial activities (for example, land use) that affect eelgrass coverage. Within particular service categories, however, we found cases where the responses to changes in eelgrass of individual groups of species that provide the same type of ecosystem service differed both in the magnitude and in the direction of change. This emphasizes the care that should be taken in combining multiple examples of a particular type of ecosystem service into an aggregate measure of that service.
Keywordsecosystem services habitat restoration eelgrass restoration ecosystem models food webs economics
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