Gammaridean Amphipods as Bioindicators in Subtropical Seagrass Ecosystemss
Anthropogenic disturbances are ubiquitous in coastal marine ecosystems. As such, more intensive monitoring efforts are necessary to conserve these valuable habitats. Bioindicators, organisms that predictably respond to changes in environmental variables, may be utilized in monitoring efforts to assess ecosystem functioning. To incorporate organisms into monitoring programs as bioindicators managers need to first understand the difference between the natural phenology of the focal organisms and their responses to different forms of anthropogenic disturbance. To determine if gammaridean amphipods could be used as indicators of changes in environmental quality in sub-tropical seagrass ecosystems, I conducted spatial and temporal surveys of amphipod communities in south Florida. Amphipod community structure varied significantly across sites and seasons. Variation in community structure was largely driven by macrophyte biomass, food availability, seasonally variable factors (epiphyte abundance, dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature), water-column nitrogen concentration, and factors related to freshwater input, including low Thalassia testudinum and high Halodule wrightii densities, and salinity. Amphipods are also susceptible to mechanical damage in seagrass habitats and could be used as indicators of ecological functioning of a region. A major source of mechanical damage in seagrass ecosystems is caused by boat propellers. I simulated propeller scars in continuous seagrass beds to investigate the effects of scarring on seagrass ecosystem functioning. Seagrasses located adjacent to propeller scars experienced a shift in the limiting resource from light to phosphorus. Amphipod community structure, however, was not impacted by scarring, but amphipod density was reduced in fragmented patches. To determine if plant-herbivore interactions were impacted by propeller scarring, we removed amphipods from half of the experimental plots and measured epiphyte biomass and community composition. Top-down control on epiphyte biomass or community composition by amphipods was not affected by fragmentation, despite reduced amphipod densities. My dissertation research demonstrates that amphipods could be incorporated into existing management programs in sub-tropical seagrass ecosystems as environmental indicators. Reduced amphipod densities in fragmented seagrass beds suggests that amphipods could also be used as ecological indicators, but more research is needed to determine the extent of the impacts of fragmentation on higher trophic levels.
Sweatman, Jennifer Lynn, "Gammaridean Amphipods as Bioindicators in Subtropical Seagrass Ecosystemss" (2016). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10743210.