Contrasting impacts of light reduction on sediment biogeochemistry in deep- and shallow-water tropical seagrass assemblages (Green Island, Great Barrier Reef)

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Journal Article
Marine Environmental Research, 2018, 136 pp. 38 - 47
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© 2018 Elsevier Ltd Seagrass meadows increasingly face reduced light availability as a consequence of coastal development, eutrophication, and climate-driven increases in rainfall leading to turbidity plumes. We examined the impact of reduced light on above-ground seagrass biomass and sediment biogeochemistry in tropical shallow- (∼2 m) and deep-water (∼17 m) seagrass meadows (Green Island, Australia). Artificial shading (transmitting ∼10-25% of incident solar irradiance) was applied to the shallow- and deep-water sites for up to two weeks. While above-ground biomass was unchanged, higher diffusive O2 uptake (DOU) rates, lower O2 penetration depths, and higher volume-specific O2 consumption (R) rates were found in seagrass-vegetated sediments as compared to adjacent bare sand (control) areas at the shallow-water sites. In contrast, deep-water sediment characteristics did not differ between bare sand and vegetated sites. At the vegetated shallow-water site, shading resulted in significantly lower hydrogen sulphide (H2S) levels in the sediment. No shading effects were found on sediment biogeochemistry at the deep-water site. Overall, our results show that the sediment biogeochemistry of shallow-water (Halodule uninervis, Syringodium isoetifolium, Cymodocea rotundata and C. serrulata) and deep-water (Halophila decipiens) seagrass meadows with different species differ in response to reduced light. The light-driven dynamics of the sediment biogeochemistry at the shallow-water site could suggest the presence of a microbial consortium, which might be stimulated by photosynthetically produced exudates from the seagrass, which becomes limited due to lower seagrass photosynthesis under shaded conditions.
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