Responses of Plant Communities in Western Florida Bay to the Die-off of Seagrasses
Abstract:Seagrass habitats in western Florida Bay have been undergoing changes from monotypic Thalassia testudinum meadows to large landscapes of barren bottoms or to increasingly heterogeneous Thalassia meadows as a result of seagrass die-off patch formation. The cause of this die-off is unknown but current hypotheses point to environmental stress making this seagrass susceptible to disease. The potential exists for colonization and recovery of these die-off patches but the sequence of events and the persistence of the recovery have not been evaluated. Based on an existing model that represents theoretical successional steps toward the Thalassia climax, four habitat types were sampled in each of two basins of western Florida Bay. Data demonstrated a high potential for recovery of the denuded die-off patches. The alga Batophora oerstedi is the first colonizer with replacement by other algal species and subsequently Halodule wrightii and eventually Thalassia. Under the existing conditions of high resuspended carbonate sediment and biological turbidity, which are thought to be secondary responses of the system to the die-off of seagrasses, persistence of the colonizing habitats and the climax community itself is tenuous. Decreases in both Halodule and Thalassia in non-die-off areas of Johnson Key Basin between spring and fall 1991 occurred as did decreases in densities of these species in recovering patches. Subsequent visits in 1993 revealed that the sample sites were devoid of seagrasses.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: May 1, 1994
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