Global and local disturbances interact to modify seagrass palatability

Global change, such as warming and ocean acidification, and local anthropogenic disturbances, such as eutrophication, can have profound impacts on marine organisms. However, we are far from being able to predict the outcome of multiple interacting disturbances on seagrass communities. Herbivores are key in determining plant community structure and the transfer of energy up the food web. Global and local disturbances may alter the ecological role of herbivory by modifying leaf palatability (i.e. leaf traits) and consequently, the feeding patterns of herbivores. This study evaluates the main and interactive effects of factors related to global change (i.e. elevated temperature, lower pH levels and associated ocean acidification) and local disturbance (i.e. eutrophication through ammonium enrichment) on a broad spectrum of leaf traits using the temperate seagrass Cymodocea nodosa, including structural, nutritional, biomechanical and chemical traits. The effect of these traits on the consumption rates of the generalist herbivore Paracentrotus lividus (purple sea urchin) is evaluated. The three disturbances of warming, low pH level and eutrophication, alone and in combination, increased the consumption rate of seagrass by modifying all leaf traits. Leaf nutritional quality, measured as nitrogen content, was positively correlated to consumption rate. In contrast, a negative correlation was found between feeding decisions by sea urchins and structural, biomechanical and chemical leaf traits. In addition, a notable accomplishment of this work is the identification of phenolic compounds not previously reported for C. nodosa. Our results suggest that global and local disturbances may trigger a major shift in the herbivory of seagrass communities, with important implications for the resilience of seagrass ecosystems.

Jiménez-Ramos R., Egea L. G., Ortega M. J., Hernández I., Vergara J. J. & Brun F. G., 2017. Global and local disturbances interact to modify seagrass palatability. PLoS ONE 12(8):e0183256. Article.

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