Living at the margins – The response of deep-water seagrasses to light and temperature renders them susceptible to acute impacts

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Journal Article
Marine Environmental Research, 2018, 136 pp. 126 - 138
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© 2018 Elsevier Ltd Seagrasses inhabit environments where light varies at different timescales, nonetheless are acutely sensitive to reductions in light beyond some conditional bounds. Two tropical deep-water seagrasses, Halophila decipiens and Halophila spinulosa, from the Great Barrier Reef were tested for their response to defined light and temperature regimes to identify their growth requirements and potential thresholds of mortality. Species were exposed to two light intensities, saturating (75 μmol photons m−2 s−1) and limiting (25 μmol photons m−2 s−1) light and two temperature treatments (26 °C and 30 °C) over a four-week period. Wavelength-specific parameters of PSII photochemistry were evaluated for seagrass leaves, as well as shoot density, gas exchange, and pigment content. Both species were sustained under saturating light levels (3.2 mol photons m−2 d−1) while limiting light led to decreased shoot density for H. decipiens and H. spinulosa after two and four weeks, respectively. Wavelength-specific photochemistry was also affected under light-limiting treatments for both species while the functional absorption cross section was highly conserved. Photoacclimation and physiological adjustments by either species was not adequate to compensate for reduced irradiance suggesting these plants reside at the margins of their functional limits. As such, relatively short periods of light attenuating events, like dredging or flood plumes, may be detrimental to deep-water seagrass populations.
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