Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

James W. Fourqurean

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Suzanne Koptur

Third Advisor's Name

Mahadev Bhat

Fourth Advisor's Name

Mark Fonseca

Fifth Advisor's Name

Deron Burkepile


Ecosystem ecology, Ecological Economics, Seagrass

Date of Defense



Coastline communities have experienced a marked increase in human populations over the last few decades. This increase in population places disproportionate pressure on coastal ecosystems to provide economic services to support local economies. At the same time, overuse of these services can aid in the destruction of the ecosystems responsible for them. Seagrass ecosystems are mainly found near coastlines, and are typically a chief provider of some of these economic goods and services. Many previous studies have documented the ecological functions of this seagrasses. Unfortunately, our increasing knowledge of seagrass structure and function has not been fully incorporated into economic models estimating their value. In this dissertation, I focus on the seagrass ecosystem in southern Biscayne Bay, and simultaneously study the ecological dynamics of the seagrass beds, and estimate its economic value. This value is based on recent ecological models in the literature as well as data I collected from the system. I focused on Biscayne Bay due to, 1) the relevance that this question had to the relationship between Biscayne Bay and the Miami metropolis, and 2) the lack of existing reliable models that explore this relationship in this area. More specifically, I became very interested in this question while working for Biscayne National Park, where such a model would have improved seagrass restoration work taking place there.

I found that southern Biscayne Bay is dominated by Thalassia testudinum, with other seagrasses following a spatial pattern primarily determined by salinity and water column nutrient distribution. Syringodium filiforme was mostly found east of the islands, Halodule wrightii was mostly found near the shoreline, and Halophila engelmenii was spotted at only two of the 190 sites visited. T. testudinum distribution was largely unaffected by nutrient enrichment at all sites, but it appeared to induce severe herbivory further from the coastline. For the calendar year 2004, we deduced using a Total Ecosystems Valuation (TEV) model that seagrass ecosystems potentially contributed over $198 million US dollars to the local economy. We argue that a simultaneous understanding and use of both ecological and economic models is important for future conservation efforts of seagrass ecosystems.





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