The role of marine macrophytes in providing essential ecosystem services: Their relative contribution and how services are impacted by eutrophication
Schmidt, Allison Louise
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Most coastal ecosystems are dominated by marine macrophytes that deliver a range of ecologically and economically important services such as carbon and nitrogen cycling and storage, and habitat provision to a range of associated species. The relative contribution of these services among different vegetated habitats, however, and their alteration due to anthropogenic stressors is little known. In this thesis, I first examined the within and between ecosystem structure and services of eelgrass (Zostera marina) and rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) beds in Atlantic Canada. Both habitats significantly enhanced the overall abundance and diversity of associated species, whereas differences in the spe-cies assemblages were attributed to differences in canopy structure within and between habitats. Changes in the canopy structure of the foundation species will affect associated food webs and ecosystem services. Next, I used large-scale field surveys to examine the effects of eutrophication on the structure and services of eelgrass beds. As eutrophication increased, plant dominance shifted from eelgrass to macroalgae and phytoplankton at a regional scale. The faunal community showed increases in filter feeders, detritivores and some herbivores, while sensitive species declined. These faunal changes can be linked to enhanced food availability and predation refuge offered by increased phytoplankton and opportunistic macroalgae. However, the loss of eelgrass and sensitive species highlight the negative consequences of eutrophication on eelgrass ecosystems and the services they provide. I also reviewed the global carbon and nitrogen storage and habitat services of mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass meadows and macroalgal beds. Despite only occupying 0.7% of the ocean area, together these ecosystems make up 12% of the oceanic carbon stock thereby playing an important role in global carbon and nitrogen storage. Moreover, these macrophyte habitats enhanced species richness and abundance of associated fauna and juvenile fishes. Overall, my findings indicate that each macrophyte habitat has its strengths yet all are essential in providing the full range of ecosystem services. Increasing human impacts along the coasts, however, are threatening macrophyte ecosystems worldwide, and their further decline will impair the provision of important services and human well-being. Lastly, I discuss the implications of my work for management and conservation.