Marine Science Faculty Publications

Faunal Communities and Habitat Characteristics of the Big Bend Seagrass Meadows, 2009–2010.

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beam trawl, Geographic Information Systems, habitat heterogeneity, seagrass, seascape ecology, secondary productivity, spatially balanced sampling, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV)

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Seagrass meadows are important habitats that serve as nursery, feeding, and sheltering grounds for many marine species. In addition to the ecosystem functions and services they provide, seagrass habitats and associated fauna are commonly observed to have naturally high levels of heterogeneity, making them ideal for the study of ecological patterns and processes across multiple spatial scales. However, seagrass systems worldwide have undergone sharp declines in coverage and increased levels of fragmentation at both local and regional spatial scales, thus compromising their ecological functions and services and reducing their value as unaltered marine systems in which to conduct ecological studies. Covering nearly 3000 km2, the seagrass meadows of the Big Bend region in the eastern Gulf of Mexico represents one of the largest in the world, and given its separation from human population centers and coastal development, is also considered to be one of the most intact and least disturbed. The objective of our study was to provide the first region-wide characterization of the habitats and faunal communities in seagrass meadows of the Big Bend. This two-year study occurred in 2009 and 2010 during the summers when peak productivity in seagrass systems is highest. Sites were selected using a spatially balanced approach and sampling was conducted with beam trawls. A total of 170 sites were sampled, and all animals were identified to lowest taxonomic level possible, counted, and their sizes measured. Habitat characteristics were concurrently measured at both local (e.g., seagrass areal coverage and composition, volume of drift algae) and regional scales (e.g., latitude, type of adjacent coastal habitat).

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Ecology, v. 96, issue 1, p. 304-304