Seagrass habitats of Northeast Australia: Models of key processes and controls
Abstract:An extensive and diverse assemblage of seagrass habitats exists along the tropical and subtropical coastline of north east Australia and the associated Great Barrier Reef. In their natural state, these habitats are characterised by very low nutrient concentrations and are primarily nitrogen limited. Summer rainfall and tropical storms/cyclones lead to large flows of sediment-laden fresh water. Macro grazers, dugongs (Dugong dugon) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are an important feature in structuring tropical Australian seagrass communities. In general, all seagrass habitats in north east Australia are influenced by high disturbance and are both spatially and temporally variable. This paper classifies the diversity into four habitat types and proposes the main limiting factor for each habitat. The major processes that categorise each habitat are described and significant threats or gaps in understanding are identified. Four broad categories of seagrass habitat are defined as 'River estuaries', 'Coastal', 'Deep water' and 'Reef', and the dominant controlling factors are terrigenous runoff, physical disturbance, low light and low nutrients, respectively. Generic concepts of seagrass ecology and habitat function have often been found inappropriate to the diverse range of seagrass habitats in north east Australian waters. The classification and models developed here explain differences in habitats by identifying ecological functions and potential response to impacts in each habitat. This understanding will help to better focus seagrass management and research in tropical habitats.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: November 1, 2002
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