Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Supplement 1, pp 20–30 | Cite as

Impacts of Varying Estuarine Temperature and Light Conditions on Zostera marina (Eelgrass) and its Interactions With Ruppia maritima (Widgeongrass)

  • Kenneth A. MooreEmail author
  • Erin C. Shields
  • David B. Parrish


Seagrass populations have been declining globally, with changes attributed to anthropogenic stresses and, more recently, negative effects of global climate change. We examined the distribution of Zostera marina (eelgrass) dominated beds in the York River, Chesapeake Bay, VA over an 8-year time period. Using a temperature-dependent light model, declines in upriver areas were associated with higher light attenuation, resulting in lower light availability relative to compensating light requirements of Z. marina compared with downriver areas. An inverse relationship was observed between SAV growth and temperature with a change between net bed cover increases and decreases for the period of 2004–2011 observed at approximately 23 °C. Z. marina-dominated beds in the lower river have been recovering from a die-off event in 2005 and experienced another near complete decline in 2010, losing an average of 97 % of coverage of Z. marina from June to October. These 2010 declines were attributed to an early summer heat event in which daily mean water temperatures increased from 25 to 30 °C over a 2-week time period, considerably higher than previous years when complete die-offs were not observed. Z. marina recovery from this event was minimal, while Ruppia maritima (widgeongrass) expanded its abundance. Water temperatures are projected to continue to increase in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere. These results suggest that short-term exposures to rapidly increasing temperatures by 4–5 °C above normal during summer months can result in widespread diebacks that may lead to Z. marina extirpation from historically vegetated areas, with the potential replacement by other species.


Seagrass Turbidity Temperature Estuary Light Chesapeake Bay Climate change 



We gratefully acknowledge field and laboratory assistance by B. Neikirk, J. Goins, S. Snyder, V. Hogge, A. Miller, R. Wright, B. Haywood, D. Tulipani, A. Knowles, and J. Austin. Sincere thanks to J. Jarvis and R. Orth for in-depth discussions and review of the manuscript. Funds for this project were provided by the Estuarine Research Reserve Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is contribution no. 3300 from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.


  1. Abe, M., A. Kurashima, and M. Maegawa. 2008. Temperature requirements for seed germination and seedling growth of Zostera marina from central Japan. Fisheries Science 74: 589–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bergmann, N., G. Winters, G. Rauch, C. Eizaguirre, J. Gu, P. Nelle, B. Fricke, B. Thorsten, and H. Reusch. 2010. Population-specificity of heat stress gene induction in northern and southern eelgrass Zostera marina populations under simulated global warming. Molecular Ecology 19: 2870–2883.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boström, C., E. Bonsdorff, P. Kangass, and A. Norkko. 2002. Long-term changes of a brackish water eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) community indicate effects of coastal eutrophication. Estuarine. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 55: 795–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Burke, M.K., W.C. Dennison, and K.A. Moore. 1996. Non-structural carbohydrate reserves of eelgrass Zostera marina. Marine Ecology Progress Series 137: 195–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dennison, W.C., R.C. Orth, K.A. Moore, J.C. Stevenson, V. Carter, S. Kollar, P.W. Bergstrom, and R.A. Batiuk. 1993. Assessing water quality with submersed aquatic vegetation: habitat requirements as barometers of Chesapeake Bay health. BioScience 43: 86–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Evans, A.S., K.L. Webb, and P.A. Penhale. 1986. Photosynthetic temperature acclimation in two coexisting seagrasses, Zostera marina L. and Ruppia maritima L. Aquatic Botany 24: 185–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Green, E.P., and F.T. Short. 2003. World atlas of seagrasses. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. Greve, T.M., J. Borum, and O. Pedersen. 2003. Meristematic oxygen variability in eelgrass (Zostera marina L.). Limnology and Oceanography 48: 210–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Homer, M., and E.J. Bondgaard. 2001. Photosynthetic and growth response of eelgrass to low oxygen and high sulfide concentrations during hypoxic events. Aquatic Botany 70: 29–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hughes, J.E., L.A. Deegan, J.C. Wyda, M.J. Weaver, and A. Wright. 2002. The effects of eelgrass habitat loss on estuarine fish communities of southern New England. Estuaries 25(2): 235–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jarvis, J.C., and K.A. Moore. 2010. The role of seedlings and seed bank viability in the recovery of Chesapeake Bay, USA, Zostera marina populations following a large-scale decline. Hydrobiologia 649: 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Johnson, M.R., S.L. Williams, C.H. Lieberman, and A. Solbak. 2003. Changes in the abundance of the seagrasses Zostera marina L. (eelgrass) and Ruppia maritima L. (widgeongrass) in San Diego, California, following an El Niño event. Estuaries 26(1): 106–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Koch, E.W. 2001. Beyond light: physical, geological, and geochemical parameters as possible submersed aquatic vegetation habitat requirements. Estuaries and Coasts 24: 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Koch, E.W., and R.J. Orth. 2003. Seagrasses of the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. In World atlas of seagrasses, ed. E.P. Green and F.T. Short, 216–223. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  15. Lazar, A.C., and C.J. Dawes. 1991. A seasonal study of the seagrass Ruppia maritima L. in Tampa Bay, Florida. Organic constituents and tolerances to salinity and temperature. Botanica Marina 34(3): 265–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Marsh, G.A. 1973. The Zostera epifaunal community in the York River, Virginia. Virginia Institute of Marine Science Contribution no. 520. Gloucester Point, VA.Google Scholar
  17. Marsh, G.A. 1976. Ecology of the gastropod epifauna of eelgrass in a Virginia estuary. Virginia Institute of Marine Science Contribution no. 703. Gloucester Point, VA.Google Scholar
  18. Marsh Jr., J.A., W.C. Dennison, and R.S. Alberte. 1986. Effects of temperature on photosynthesis and respiration in eelgrass (Zostera marina L.). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 101: 257–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Micheli, R., M.J. Bishop, C.H. Peterson, and J. Rivera. 2008. Alteration of seagrass species composition and function over two decades. Ecological Monographs 78(2): 225–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Moore, K.A. 2004. Influence of seagrasses on water quality in shallow regions of the lower Chesapeake Bay. Journal of Coastal Research Special Issue No. 45: 162–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Moore, K.A. 2009. NERRS SWMP bio-monitoring protocol: long-term monitoring of estuarine submersed and emergent vegetation communities. National Estuarine Research Reserve System Technical Report. Silver Spring: NOAA–NERRS.Google Scholar
  22. Moore, K.A., and J.C. Jarvis. 2008. Environmental factors affecting recent summertime eelgrass diebacks in the lower Chesapeake Bay: implications for long-term persistence. Journal of Coastal Research Special Issue No. 55: 135–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Moore, K.A., and F.T. Short. 2006. Zostera: biology, ecology, and management. In Seagrass: biology, ecology and conservation, ed. A.W.D. Larkum, R.J. Orth, and C.M. Duarte, 361–386. Amsterdam: Springer.Google Scholar
  24. Moore, K.A., H.A. Neckles, and R.J. Orth. 1996. Zostera marina (eelgrass) growth and survival along a gradient of nutrients and turbidity in the lower Chesapeake Bay. Marine Ecology Progress Series 142: 247–259.Google Scholar
  25. Moore, K.A., R.L. Wetzel, and R.J. Orth. 1997. Seasonal pulses of turbidity and their relations to eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) survival in an estuary. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 215: 115–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moore, K.A., D.L. Wilcox, and R.J. Orth. 2000. Analysis of abundance of submersed aquatic vegetation communities in the Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries 23: 115–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Moore, K.A., E.C. Shields, D.B. Parrish, and R.J. Orth. 2012. Eelgrass survival in two contrasting systems: role of turbidity and summer water temperatures. Marine Ecology Progress Series 448: 247–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Najjar, R.G., H.A. Walker, P.J. Anderson, E.J. Barron, R.J. Bord, J.R. Gibson, V.S. Kennedy, C.G. Knight, J.P. Megonigal, R.E. O’Connor, C.D. Polsky, N.P. Psuty, B.A. Richards, L.G. Sorenson, E.M. Steele, and R.S. Swanson. 2000. The potential impacts of climate change on the mid-Atlantic coastal region. Climate Research 14: 219–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. National Estuarine Research Reserve System. 2012. System-Wide Monitoring Program. Accessed December 12, 2012.
  30. Neff, R., H. Chang, C.G. Knight, R.G. Najjar, B. Yarnal, and H.A. Walker. 2000. Impact of climate variation and change on mid-Atlantic region hydrology and water resources. Climate Research 14: 207–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nejrup, L.B., and M.F. Pedersen. 2008. Effects of salinity and water temperature on the ecological performance of Zostera marina. Aquatic Botany 88: 239–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Orth, R.J., and K.A. Moore. 1983. An unprecedented decline in submerged aquatic vegetation (Chesapeake Bay). Science 22: 51–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Orth, R.J., and K.A. Moore. 1984. Distribution of abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay: an historical perspective. Estuaries 7: 531–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Orth, R.J., and K.A. Moore. 1986. Seasonal and year-to-year variations in the growth of Z. marina L. (eelgrass) in the Chesapeake Bay. Aquatic Botany 24: 335–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Orth, R.J., and K.A. Moore. 1988. Distribution of Zostera marina L. and Ruppia maritima L. sensu lato along depth gradients in the lower Chesapeake Bay, U.S.A. Aquatic Botany 32: 291–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Orth, R.J., T.J.B. Carruthers, W.C. Dennison, C.M. Duarte, J.W. Fourqurean, K.L. Heck Jr., A.R. Hughes, G.A. Kendrick, W.J. Kenworthy, S. Olyarnik, F.T. Short, M. Waycott, and S.L. Williams. 2006. A global crisis for seagrass ecosystems. BioScience 56: 987–996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Orth, R.J., S.R. Marion, K.A. Moore, and D.J. Wilcox. 2010. Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) in the Chesapeake Bay region of Mid-Atlantic coast of the USA: challenges in conservation and restoration. Estuaries and Coasts 33: 139–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Orth, R.J., D.J. Wilcox, J.R. Whiting, L. Nagey, A.L. Owens, and A.K. Kenne. 2011. 2010 distribution of submerged aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay and coastal bays. VIMS special scientific report # 153. Final report to US EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, Annapolis, MD.Google Scholar
  39. Palacios, S.L., and R.C. Zommerman. 2007. Response of eelgrass (Zostera marina) to CO2 enrichment: possible impacts of climate change and potential for remediation of coastal habitats. Marine Ecology Progress Series 344: 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Plus, M., J.-M. Deslous-Paoli, and F. Dagault. 2003. Seagrass (Zostera marina L.) bed recolonisation after anoxia-induced full mortality. Aquatic Botany 77: 121–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Polsky, C., J. Allard, N. Currit, R. Crane, and B. Yarnal. 2000. The mid-Atlantic region and its climate: past present and future. Climate Research 14: 161–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Preston, B.L. 2004. Observed winter warming of the Chesapeake Bay estuary (1949–2002): implications for ecosystem management. Environmental Management 34: 125–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. R Core Team (2012). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
  44. Raum, A.L., and J. Borum. 2013. Combined impact of water column oxygen and temperature on internal oxygen status and growth of Zostera marina seedlings and adult plants. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 441: 16–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Reed, B.J., and K.A. Hovel. 2006. Seagrass habitat disturbance: how loss and fragmentation of eelgrass Zostera marina influences epifaunal abundance and diversity. Marine Ecology Progress Series 326: 133–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Reusch, T.B.H., A. Ehlers, A. Hämmerli, and B. Worm. 2005. Ecosystem recovery after climatic extremes enhanced by genotypic diversity. PNAS 102(8): 2826–2831.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Short, F., T. Carruthers, W. Dennison, and M. Waycott. 2007. Global seagrass distribution and diversity: a bioregional model. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 350: 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Siegel, S., and N.J. Castellan. 1988. Nonparametric statistics for the behavioral sciences, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  49. Staehr, P.A., and J. Borum. 2011. Seasonal acclimation in metabolism reduces light requirements of eelgrass (Zostera marina). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 407(2): 139–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Virginia Estuarine and Coastal Observing System. 2012. Accessed 11 November 2012.
  51. Waycott, M., C.M. Duarte, T.J.B. Carruthers, R.J. Orth, W.C. Dennison, S. Olyarnik, A. Calladine, J.W. Fourqurean, K.L. Heck Jr., A.R. Hughes, G.A. Kendrick, W.J. Kenworthy, F.T. Short, and S.L. Williams. 2009. Accelerating loss of seagrasses across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106: 12377–12381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wetzel, R.L., and P.A. Penhale. 1983. Production ecology of seagrass communities in the lower Chesapeake Bay. Marine Technology Society Journal 17: 22–31.Google Scholar
  53. Winters, G., P. Nelle, B. Fricke, G. Rauch, and T.B.H. Reusch. 2011. Effects of a simulated heat wave on photophysiology and gene expression of high- and low-latitude populations of Zostera marina. Marine Ecology Progress Series 435: 83–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zimmerman, R.C., R.D. Smith, and R.S. Alberte. 1989. Thermal acclimation and whole plant carbon balance in Zostera marina L. (eelgrass). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 130: 93–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zimmerman, R.C., D.G. Kohrs, D.L. Steller, and R.S. Alberte. 1997. Impacts of CO2-enrichment on productivity and light requirements of eelgrass. Plant Physiology 115: 599–607.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth A. Moore
    • 1
    Email author
  • Erin C. Shields
    • 1
  • David B. Parrish
    • 1
  1. 1.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceCollege of William and MaryGloucester PointUSA

Personalised recommendations