Global seagrass distribution and diversity: A bioregional model
Seagrasses, marine flowering plants, are widely distributed along temperate and tropical coastlines of the world. Seagrasses have key ecological roles in coastal ecosystems and can form extensive meadows supporting high biodiversity. The global species diversity of seagrasses is low (b60 species), but species can have ranges that extend for thousands of kilometers of coastline. Seagrass bioregions are defined here, based on species assemblages, species distributional ranges, and tropical and temperate influences. Six global bioregions are presented: four temperate and two tropical. The temperate bioregions include the Temperate North Atlantic, the Temperate North Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Temperate Southern Oceans. The Temperate North Atlantic has low seagrass diversity, the major species being Zostera marina, ypically occurring in estuaries and lagoons. The Temperate North Pacific has high seagrass diversity with Zostera spp. in estuaries and lagoons as well as Phyllospadix spp. in the surf zone. The Mediterranean region has clear water with vast meadows of moderate diversity of both temperate and tropical seagrasses, dominated by deep-growing Posidonia oceanica. The Temperate Southern Oceans bioregion includes the temperate southern coastlines of Australia, Africa and South America. Extensive meadows of low-to-high diversity temperate seagrasses are found in this bioregion, dominated by various species of Posidonia and Zostera. The tropical bioregions are the Tropical Atlantic and the Tropical Indo-Pacific, both supporting mega-herbivore grazers, including sea turtles and sirenia. The Tropical Atlantic bioregion has clear water with a high diversity of seagrasses on reefs and shallow banks, dominated by Thalassia testudinum. The vast Tropical Indo-Pacific has the highest seagrass diversity in the world, with as many as 14 species growing together on reef flats although seagrasses also occur in very deep waters. The global distribution of seagrass genera is remarkably consistent north and south of the equator; the northern and southern hemispheres share ten seagrass genera and only have one unique genus each. Some genera are much more speciose than others, with the genus Halophila having the most seagrass species. There are roughly the same number of temperate and tropical seagrass genera as well as species. The most widely distributed seagrass is Ruppia maritima, which occurs in tropical and temperate zones in a wide variety of habitats. Seagrass bioregions at the scale of ocean basins are identified based on species distributions which are supported by genetic patterns f diversity. Seagrass bioregions provide a useful framework for interpreting ecological, physiological and genetic results collected in specific locations or from particular species.
Keywords: Bioregional models, Diversity, Global distribution, Seagrass, Species, Temperate, Tropical