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Monitoring of physically restored seagrass meadows reveals a slow rate of recovery for Thalassia testudinum

Furman, Bradley T., Merello, Manuel, Shea, Colin P., Kenworthy, William J., Hall, Margaret O.
Restoration ecology 2019 v.27 no.2 pp. 421-430
Halodule wrightii, Thalassia testudinum, birds, energy, feces, habitats, hydrodynamics, limestone, meadows, monitoring, nutrients, peas, planting, propellers, seagrasses, sediments, Florida
Physical damage by motor vessels is a widespread problem for seagrass meadows, with hull and propeller strikes accounting for thousands of acres of impaired habitat in Florida, United States, alone. Because the excavations can become topographically unstable, and because recolonization and succession of seagrasses can require decades to reach climax, Thalassia testudinum‐dominated communities, there has been increasing efforts to regrade and stabilize impacted sediments, and to speed succession. A prior project involving eight vessel groundings in two hydrodynamic settings (high and low energy) examined the relative efficacy of capping injuries with sand‐filled fabric tubes or limestone pea rock, followed by planting of fast‐growing seagrass species and nutrient amendment using bird‐roosting stake deployments. Monitoring after 4 years showed recruitment of fast‐growing, subordinate species: Syringodium filiforme or Halodule wrightii, particularly in low‐energy environments; however, T. testudinum had not yet returned to natural densities. The current study extended monitoring an additional 3 years. At 7 years posteffort, T. testudinum recolonization was still incomplete. Of the eight sites, only three had statistically recovered. In low‐energy areas, H. wrightii cover was greater than in reference meadows, and a strong inverse relationship between H. wrightii and T. testudinum was observed. One explanation is that residual nutrients from bird feces switched the competitive outcome. We demonstrate using seagrass tissue N:P that nutrients delivered via bird stakes remained in the sediments of low‐energy environments, and argue that prolonged fertilization resulted in competitive advantages for H. wrightii, depressing T. testudinum recruitment and delaying recovery of the targeted seagrass community.