Invertebrate dispersal and habitat heterogeneity: expression of biological traits in a seagrass landscape

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Seagrass meadows harbour diverse faunal assemblages, but the relative importance of landscapes attributes, settlement processes and biological traits of individual species for recruitment patterns is poorly understood. To quantify the influence of habitat heterogeneity on larval, juvenile and adult post-larval dispersal, invertebrates (> 125 µm) were collected in benthic settlement traps at five occasions (June–August) in three habitats; continuous seagrass, seagrass patches and bare sand. The study was carried out by SCUBA diving in a subtidal (2.5 m depth) seagrass landscape dominated by Zostera marina L. in the Baltic Sea. Traps collected totally > 30 taxa, with non-significant effects of habitat on species richness and total abundance. Total number of invertebrates exhibited strong temporal variability, probably driven by wind-induced bedload and water column transport. Surprisingly, traps located in small (< 12 m2) patches contained on average almost twice as many individuals as traps located in the continuous vegetation. Dominating taxa such as nematodes, copepods, and oligochaetes were found in similar densities across the landscape. In contrast, location within the landscape had strong effects on bivalve settlement and redistribution patterns, resulting in significantly lower densities in continuous vegetation compared to patches and bare sand. A biological trait analysis indicated that semi-mobile taxa with annual protracted direct development, and short-distance dispersal are probably of higher importance for the community assembly process in this environment than long-distance larval dispersal. Results suggest that seagrass landscapes are highly dynamic environments, characterized by time and species-specific effects of landscape attributes on animal dispersal and recruitment. A conceptual model illustrating interactions between settling larvae and landscape heterogeneity is presented.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)106–117
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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