Role of Larger Herbvores in Seagrass Communities

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The nutritional ecology of macroherbivores in seagrass meadows and the roles of grazing by urchins, fishes and green turtles in tropical systems and waterfowl in temperate systems are discussed in this review. Only a few species of animals graze on living seagrasses, and apparently only a small portion of the energy and nutrients in seagrasses is usually channeled through these herbivores. The general paucity of direct seagrass grazers may be a function of several factors in the composition of seagrasses, including availability of nitrogen compounds, presence of relatively high amounts of structural cell walls, and presence of toxic or inhibitory substances. The macroherbivores, however, can have a profound effect on the seagrass plants, on other grazers and fauna associated with the meadow, and on chemical and decompositional processes occurring within the meadow. Grazing can alter the nutrient content and digestibility of the plant, as well as its productivity. Removal of leaf material can influence interrelations among permanent and transient faunal residents. Grazing also interrupts the detritus cycle. Possible consequences of this disruption, either through acceleration or through decreased source input, and the enhancement of intersystem coupling by increased export and offsite fecal production, are discussed. The extent and magnitude of these effects and their ecological significance in the overall functioning of seagrass meadows only can be speculated, and probably are not uniform or of similar importance in both tropical and temperate seagrass systems. However, areas grazed by large herbivores provide natural experiments in which to test hypotheses on many functional relations in seagrass meadows.

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Estuaries, v. 7, issue 4, p. 351-376