Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 927–940 | Cite as

Seagrass Viviparous Propagules as a Potential Long-Distance Dispersal Mechanism

  • Alexandra C. G. ThomsonEmail author
  • Paul H. York
  • Timothy M. Smith
  • Craig D. H. Sherman
  • David J. Booth
  • Michael J. Keough
  • D. Jeff Ross
  • Peter I. Macreadie


Resilience of seagrass meadows relies on the ability of seagrass to successfully recolonise denuded areas or disperse to new areas. While seed germination and rhizome extension have been explored as modes of recovery and expansion, the contribution of seagrass viviparous propagules to meadow population dynamics has received little attention. Here, we investigated the potential of seagrass viviparous propagules to act as dispersal vectors. We performed a series of density surveys, and in situ and mesocosm-based experiments in Port Phillip Bay, VIC, Australia, using Zostera nigricaulis, a species known to produce viviparous propagules. Production of viviparous propagules was higher at sites with high wind and current exposure, compared to more sheltered environments. A number of propagules remained buoyant and healthy for more than 85 days, suggesting the capacity for relatively long-distance dispersal. Transplanted propagules were found to have improved survivorship within seagrass habitats compared to bare sediment over the short term (4 weeks); however, all propagules suffered longer-term (<100 days) mortality in field experiments. Conditions outside of meadows, including sediment scouring, reduced the likelihood of successful colonisation in bare sediment. Furthermore, sediment characteristics within meadows, such as a smaller grain size and high organic content, positively influenced propagule establishment. This research provides preliminary evidence that propagules have the potential to act as an important long-distance dispersal vector, a process that has previously gone unrecognised. Even though successful establishment of propagules may be rare, viviparous propagules show great potential for seagrass populations given they are facing global decline.


Seagrass Propagules Dispersal Zostera Resilience Recruitment 



We thank the Victorian Marine Science Consortium, Queenscliff, for use of their facilities. For assistance, we thank Rod Watson and Liz McGrath at VMSC Queenscliff, Melanie Purdy and Stacey Trevathan-Tackett at UTS and everyone involved at the Deakin University Centre for Integrative Ecology. We are grateful to both the University of Technology Sydney and Deakin University for technical support. This study was financially supported by a research grant from the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment: ‘Seagrass resilience in Port Phillip Bay: aiming to develop better predictions of how seagrass responds to environmental change’.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra C. G. Thomson
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Paul H. York
    • 3
    • 4
    • 6
  • Timothy M. Smith
    • 3
  • Craig D. H. Sherman
    • 3
  • David J. Booth
    • 1
  • Michael J. Keough
    • 4
  • D. Jeff Ross
    • 5
  • Peter I. Macreadie
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
  1. 1.School of the EnvironmentUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3)University of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Centre for Integrative EcologyDeakin UniversityWaurn PondsAustralia
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  5. 5.Institute for Marine and Antarctic StudiesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  6. 6.Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER)James Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  7. 7.Centre for Integrative EcologyDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

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