Zostera marina meadows from the Gulf of California: conservation status

Abstract

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) population estimates show a decreasing trend worldwide in the second half of the twentieth century. Mexico lacks long-term time series to determine trends for major eelgrass populations and has made no conservation efforts. Therefore, we present the first report on the historic presence of this annual coastal ecosystem in two wetlands of the Gulf of California (GC), the Infiernillo Channel (CIF, largest Z. marina population inside GC) and Concepcion Bay (BCP, the only eelgrass population along GC’s west coast), combining field surveys (1999–2010), aerial photography (2000–2010), satellite imagery (1972–2005), and published reports (1994–2007). Three parameters were used as indicators of conservation status: shoot density, seed banks, and aerial coverage. Average shoot density in the CIF (741 shoots m−2) was 3.8 times higher than in BCP (194 shoots m−2), and average seed bank density was similar in both wetlands (17,442 seeds m−2 vs. 17,000 seeds m−2). Opportunistic seagrass Ruppia maritima was observed in both wetlands, with higher abundance in summer when Z. marina disappears due to high water temperatures. Eelgrass coverage was three orders of magnitude greater in the CIF (9725 ha) than in BCP (3 ha). The striking difference between these wetlands is the lack of environmental protection for BCP and the protection of the CIF by the Seri indigenous community, which increases human pressure in the former, putting it at high risk of disappearing. Conservation of eelgrass meadows is not only necessary to preserve their ecosystem services but to insure the survival of migratory populations (Pacific brant goose, Branta bernicla), endangered species (Black turtle, Chelonia mydas), and fisheries-related species.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank pilot Sandy Lanham for her support during the CIF aerial surveys in 1999 and 2010 and the Christensen Fund for funding the flights. We also thank the Comcáac community, especially Alfredo López, elder of the Comcáac council. Additionally, we thank Thor Morales for the photographs taken during aerial surveys in 2010, as well as Rafael Segovia, Cathy Marlett, and Steve Marlett for sharing their knowledge on the CIF. JMLC is grateful for support by CONACYT Grant #19923, and Rafael Riosmena-Rodríguez acknowledges the support of CONACYT SEMARNAT Grant #2345.

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Correspondence to Rafael Riosmena-Rodríguez.

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Communicated by Dirk Sven Schmeller.

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Lopez-Calderon, J.M., Riosmena-Rodríguez, R., Torre, J. et al. Zostera marina meadows from the Gulf of California: conservation status. Biodivers Conserv 25, 261–273 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1045-6

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Keywords

  • Seagrass meadows
  • Northwest Mexico
  • Thematic classification
  • Landsat images
  • Ecosystem services