FCE LTER Journal Articles


Nutrient impacts on epifaunal density and species composition in a subtropical seagrass bed


The capacity of epifauna to control algal proliferation following nutrient input depends on responses of both grazers and upper trophic level consumers to enrichment. We examined the responses of Thalassia testudinum (turtle grass) epifaunal assemblages to nutrient enrichment at two sites in Florida Bay with varying levels of phosphorus limitation. We compared epifaunal density, biomass, and species diversity in 2 m2 plots that had either ambient nutrient concentrations or had been enriched with nitrogen and phosphorus for 6 months. At the severely P-limited site, total epifaunal density and biomass were two times higher in enriched than in unenriched plots. Caridean shrimp, grazing isopods, and gammarid amphipods accounted for much of the increase in density; brachyuran crabs, primary predatory fish, and detritivorous sea cucumbers accounted for most of the increase in biomass. At the less P-limited site, total epifaunal density and biomass were not affected by nutrient addition, although there were more caridean shrimp and higher brachyuran crab and pink shrimp biomass in enriched plots. At both sites, some variation in epifaunal density and biomass was explained by features of the macrophyte canopy, such as T. testudinum and Halodule wrightii percent cover, suggesting that enrichment may change the refuge value of the macrophyte canopy for epifauna. Additional variation in epifaunal density and biomass was explained by epiphyte pigment concentrations, suggesting that enrichment may change the microalgal food resources that support grazing epifauna. Increased epifaunal density in enriched plots suggests that grazers may be able to control epiphytic algal proliferation following moderate nutrient input to Florida Bay.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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