Trophic Transfers from Seagrass Meadows Subsidize Diverse Marine and Terrestrial Consumers
In many coastal locations, seagrass meadows are part of a greater seascape that includes both marine and terrestrial elements, each linked to the other via the foraging patterns of consumers (both predators and herbivores), and the passive drift of seagrass propagules, leaves, roots and rhizomes, and seagrass-associated macroalgal detritus. With seagrasses declining in many regions, the linkages between seagrass meadows and other habitats are being altered and diminished. Thus, it is timely to summarize what is known about the prevalence and magnitude of cross-habitat exchanges of seagrass-derived energy and materials, and to increase awareness of the importance of seagrasses to adjacent and even distant habitats. To do so we examined the literature on the extent and importance of exchanges of biomass between seagrass meadows and other habitats, both in the form of exported seagrass biomass as well as transfers of animal biomass via migration. Data were most abundant for Caribbean coral reefs and Australian beaches, and organisms for which there were quantitative estimates included Caribbean fishes and North American migratory waterfowl. Overall, data from the studies we reviewed clearly showed that seagrass ecosystems provide a large subsidy to both near and distant locations through the export of particulate organic matter and living plant and animal biomass. The consequences of continuing seagrass decline thus extend far beyond the areas where seagrasses grow.
Keywords: seagrass, connectivity, trophic subsidy, consumers