TitleAre large macroalgal blooms necessarily bad? nutrient impacts on seagrass in upwelling-influenced estuaries
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsHessing-Lewis, ML, Hacker, SD, Menge, BA, McConville, S-oh, Henderson, J
JournalEcological Applications
Date PublishedJUL
Type of ArticleArticle
Keywordseelgrass, estuary, eutrophication, macroalgae, nutrients, oceanic upwelling, Oregon, species interactions, Ulva spp, USA, Zostera marina

Knowledge of nutrient pathways and their resulting ecological interactions can alleviate numerous environmental problems associated with nutrient increases in both natural and managed systems. Although not unique, coastal systems are particularly prone to complex ecological interactions resulting from nutrient inputs from both the land and sea. Nutrient inputs to coastal systems often spur ulvoid macroalgal blooms, with negative consequences for seagrasses, primarily through shading, as well as through changes in local biogeochemistry. We conducted complementary field and mesocosm experiments in an upwelling-influenced estuary, where marine-derived nutrients dominate, to understand the direct and indirect effects of nutrients on the macroalgal-eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) interaction. In the field experiment, we found weak evidence that nutrients and/or macroalgal treatments had a negative effect on eelgrass. However, in the mesocosm experiment, we found that a combination of nutrient and macroalgal treatments led to strongly negative eelgrass responses, primarily via indirect effects associated with macroalgal additions. Together, increased total light attenuation and decreased sediment oxygen levels were associated with larger effects on eelgrass than shading alone, which was evaluated using mimic algae treatments that did not alter sediment redox potential. Nutrient addition in the mesocosms directly affected seagrass density, biomass, and morphology, but not as strongly as macroalgae. We hypothesize that the contrary results from these parallel experiments are a consequence of differences in the hydrodynamics between field and mesocosm settings. We suggest that the high rates of water movement and tidal submersion of our intertidal field experiments alleviated the light reduction and negative biogeochemical changes in the sediment associated with macroalgal canopies, as well as the nutrient effects observed in the mesocosm experiments. Furthermore, adaptation of ulvoids and eelgrass to high, but variable, background nutrient concentrations in upwelling-influenced estuaries may partly explain the venue-specific results reported here. In order to manage critical seagrass habitats, nutrient criteria and macroalgal indicators must consider variability in marine-based nutrient delivery and local physical conditions among estuaries.