Light thresholds derived from seagrass loss in the coastal zone of the northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Collier, C.J., Waycott, M., and McKenzie, L.J. (2012) Light thresholds derived from seagrass loss in the coastal zone of the northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ecological Indicators, 23. pp. 211-219.

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Abstract

There is a world-wide trend for deteriorating water quality and light levels in the coastal zone, and this has been linked to declines in seagrass abundance. Localized management of seagrass meadow health requires that water quality guidelines for meeting seagrass growth requirements are available. Tropical seagrass meadows are diverse and can be highly dynamic and we have used this dynamism to identify light thresholds in multi-specific meadows dominated by Halodule uninervis in the northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Seagrass cover was measured at similar to 3 month intervals from 2008 to 2011 at three sites: Magnetic Island (MI) Dunk Island (DI) and Green Island (GI). Photosynthetically active radiation was continuously measured within the seagrass canopy, and three light metrics were derived. Complete seagrass loss occurred at MI and DI and at these sites changes in seagrass cover were correlated with the three light metrics. Mean daily irradiance (I(d)) above 5 and 8.4 mol m⁻² d⁻¹ was associated with gains in seagrass at MI and DI, however a significant correlation (R = 0.649, p < 0.05) only occurred at MI. The second metric, percent of days below 3 mol m⁻² d⁻¹, correlated the most strongly (MI, R = -0.714, p < 0.01 and DI, R = -0.859, p = <0.001) with change in seagrass cover with 16-18% of days below 3 mol m⁻² d⁻¹ being associated with more than 50% seagrass loss. The third metric, the number of hours of light saturated irradiance (H(sat)) was calculated using literature-derived data on saturating irradiance (E(k)). H-sat correlated well (R = 0.686, p <0.01; and DI, R = 0.704, p < 0.05) with change in seagrass abundance, and was very consistent between the two sites as 4 H(sat) was associated with increases in seagrass abundance at both sites, and less than 4 H(sat) with more than 50% loss. At the third site (GI), small seasonal losses of seagrass quickly recovered during the growth season and the light metrics did not correlate (p > 0.05) with change in percent cover, except for I(d) which was always high, but correlated with change in seagrass cover. Although distinct light thresholds were observed, the departure from threshold values was also important. For example, light levels that are well below the thresholds resulted in more severe loss of seagrass than those just below the threshold. Environmental managers aiming to achieve optimal seagrass growth conditions can use these threshold light metrics as guidelines; however, other environmental conditions, including seasonally varying temperature and nutrient availability, will influence seagrass responses above and below these thresholds.

Item ID: 23576
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: seagrass, light requirements, water quality, thresholds, guidelines, Halodule uninervis
ISSN: 1470-160X
Funders: Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility, Reef Rescue Marine Monitoring Program, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2012 05:37
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050206 Environmental Monitoring @ 30%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050205 Environmental Management @ 30%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0607 Plant Biology > 060701 Phycology (incl Marine Grasses) @ 40%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960503 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 20%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9609 Land and Water Management > 960903 Coastal and Estuarine Water Management @ 40%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960802 Coastal and Estuarine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 40%
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