Testing the sediment-trapping paradigm of seagrass: do seagrasses influence nutrient status and sediment structure in tropical intertidal environments?
Seagrass meadows are considered important for sediment trapping and sediment stabilisation. Deposition of fine sediments and associated adsorbed nutrients is considered an important part of the chemical and biological processes attributed to seagrass communities. This paradigm was based on work in temperate regions on Zostera marina and in tropical regions on Thalassia testudinum, two species that maintain relatively high biomass, stable meadows. The current study investigates this concept for three species of intertidal tropical seagrass meadows in northeastern Australia. Sediment structure and nutrient status did not differ between vegetated and unvegated habitats in intertidal areas within the central region of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The 'trapping' functions that have been attributed to seagrasses need to be re-assessed for a variety of locations and species before they can be accepted as dogma. In tropical Australia, intertidal meadows are predominantly ephemeral and comprised of structurally small species of low biomass. Consequently, sediment trapping within these meadows is largely insignificant.