Spatial structure of seagrass suggests that size-dependent plant traits have a strong influence on the distribution and maintenance of tropical multispecies meadows

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Abstract

Background: Seagrass species in the tropics occur in multispecies meadows. How these meadows are maintained through species co-existence and what their ecological drivers may be has been an overarching question in seagrass biogeography. In this study, we quantify the spatial structure of four co-existing species and infer potential ecological processes from these structures. Methods and Results: Species presence/absence data were collected using underwater towed and dropped video cameras in Pulau Tinggi, Malaysia. The geostatistical method, utilizing semivariograms, was used to describe the spatial structure of Halophila spp, Halodule uninervis, Syringodium isoetifolium and Cymodocea serrulata. Species had spatial patterns that were oriented in the along-shore and across-shore directions, nested with larger species in meadow interiors, and consisted of multiple structures that indicate the influence of 2-3 underlying processes. The Linear Model of Coregionalization (LMC) was used to estimate the amount of variance contributing to the presence of a species at specific spatial scales. These distances were <2.5 m (micro-scale), 2.5-50 m (fine-scale) and >50 m (broad-scale) in the along-shore; and <2.5 m (micro-scale), 2.5-140 m (fine-scale) and >140 m (broad-scale) in the across-shore. The LMC suggests that smaller species (Halophila spp and H. uninervis ) were most influenced by broad-scale processes such as hydrodynamics and water depth whereas large, localised species (S. isoetifolium and C. serrulata) were more influenced by finer-scale processes such as sediment burial, seagrass colonization and growth, and physical disturbance. Conclusion: In this study, we provide evidence that spatial structure is distinct even when species occur in well-mixed multispecies meadows, and we suggest that size-dependent plant traits have a strong influence on the distribution and maintenance of tropical marine plant communities. This study offers a contrast from previous spatial models of seagrasses which have largely focused on monospecific temperate meadows. © 2014 Ooi et al.

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Ooi, J. L. S., Van Niel, K. P., Kendrick, G. A., & Holmes, K. W. (2014). Spatial structure of seagrass suggests that size-dependent plant traits have a strong influence on the distribution and maintenance of tropical multispecies meadows. PLoS ONE, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0086782

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