Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Biology

First Advisor's Name

Craig A. Layman

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

James W. Fourqurean

Third Advisor's Name

Ligia L. Collado-Vides

Fourth Advisor's Name

Jennifer S. Rehage

Fifth Advisor's Name

William M. Graham

Keywords

Anthropogenic disturbance, Bahamas, benthic ecology, Cassiopea spp., eutrophication, habitat modification, jellyfish blooms, jellyfish growth, seagrass, Thalassia testudinum

Date of Defense

6-10-2014

Abstract

Coastal marine ecosystems are among the most impacted globally, attributable to individual and cumulative effects of human disturbance. Anthropogenic nutrient loading is one stressor that commonly affects nearshore ecosystems, including seagrass beds, and has positive and negative effects on the structure and function of coastal systems. An additional, previously unexplored mechanistic pathway through which nutrients may indirectly influence nearshore systems is by driving blooms of benthic jellyfish. My dissertation research, conducted on Abaco Island, Bahamas, focused on elucidating the role that benthic jellyfish have in structuring systems in which they are common (i.e., seagrass beds), and explored mechanistic processes that may drive blooms of this taxa.

To establish that human disturbances (e.g., elevated nutrient availability) may drive increased abundance and size of benthic jellyfish, Cassiopea spp., I conducted surveys in human-impacted and unimpacted coastal sites. Jellyfish were more abundant (and larger) from human-impacted areas, positively correlated to elevated nutrient availability. In order to elucidate mechanisms linking Cassiopea spp. with elevated nutrients, I evaluated whether zooxanthellae from Cassiopea were higher from human-disturbed systems, and whether Cassiopea exhibited increased size following nutrient input. I demonstrated that zooxanthellae population densities were elevated in human-impacted sites, and that nutrients led to positive jellyfish growth.

As heightened densities of Cassiopea jellyfish may exert top-down and bottom-up controls on flora and fauna in impacted seagrass beds, I sought to examine ecological responses to Cassiopea. I evaluated whether there was a relationship between high Cassiopea densities and lower benthic fauna abundance and diversity in shallow seagrass beds. I found that Cassiopea have subtle effects on benthic fauna. However, through an experiment conducted in a seagrass bed in which nutrients and Cassiopea were added, I demonstrated that Cassiopea can result in seagrass habitat modification, with negative consequences for benthic fauna.

My dissertation research demonstrates that increased human-driven benthic jellyfish densities may have indirect and direct effects on flora and fauna of coastal marine systems. This knowledge will advance our understanding of how human disturbances shift species interactions in coastal ecosystems, and will be critical for effective management of jellyfish blooms.

Identifier

FI14071173

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