, Volume 151, Issue 4, pp 675–686 | Cite as

Variation in multiple traits of vegetative and reproductive seagrass tissues influences plant–herbivore interactions

  • Adriana Vergés
  • Mikel A. Becerro
  • Teresa Alcoverro
  • Javier Romero
Plant Animal Interactions


Plant–herbivore interactions have strong ecological and evolutionary consequences, but have been traditionally overlooked in marine higher plants. Despite recent advances in seagrass ecology that highlight the importance of herbivory, the mechanisms that regulate the feeding behaviour of seagrass consumers remain largely unknown. Herbivores have been shown to reduce the sexual reproductive success of seagrasses through direct consumption of inflorescences and seeds, but we know little about intraspecific variation in susceptibility to grazing of different seagrass tissues. We contrasted the relative palatability of reproductive and vegetative tissues of the temperate seagrass Posidonia oceanica in the field, and we assessed the feeding preferences among these tissues of the main consumers of the plant, the fish Sarpa salpa and the urchin Paracentrotus lividus. Moreover, we identified the plant traits that explained the observed feeding behaviour. We provide strong evidence for herbivore selectivity among seagrass tissues. In the field, 70–90% of inflorescences were damaged by herbivores compared to 3–60% of leaves of similar age. In feeding assays, the urchin P. lividus showed over a twofold preference for reproductive tissue at various stages of development. By contrast, we detected no feeding activity on either leaves or inflorescences from the fish S. salpa, which is known to migrate to deeper waters soon after flowering starts and during the period of fruit maturation. Despite being the preferred food of urchins, inflorescences were chemically defended, had higher levels of phenolics and lower nutrient and calorific content than leaves. We experimentally demonstrated that leaf structural defences are the primary factor in determining urchin feeding preferences. Removal of plant structure results in a drastic shift in urchin selectivity towards the most nutritious and less chemically defended leaf tissue, indicating that multiple mechanisms of defence to herbivory may coexist in seagrasses.


Chemical defence Feeding preference Plant–herbivore interactions Plant toughness Phenolics 



We thank the Aquàrium de Barcelona for the use of the aquaria facilities, and especially Patrici Bultó, Toni Plaça and Francesc Inglada for their help and support. We also thank Fiona Tomàs and Pere Renom for their help with field work. CN analyses and calorific measurements were performed at the Serveis Cientifico-Tècnics of the Universitat de Barcelona—we thank Pilar Fernández, Ana-Belén Jiménez and Anna Garcia for their assistance and Isidre Casals for his guidance with several analytical techniques. We thank Jesus Francés from the Universitat de Girona for the use of the TA.XT2i Texture Analyser. Alistair Poore, Nick Paul and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful suggestions on versions of this manuscript. This work was supported by grant REN-2002-04020-C02 from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education. All experimental procedures comply with the current laws of Spain.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adriana Vergés
    • 1
  • Mikel A. Becerro
    • 1
  • Teresa Alcoverro
    • 1
  • Javier Romero
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes, CSICBlanes, GironaSpain
  2. 2.Departament d’EcologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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