Reintroduction of self-facilitating feedbacks could advance subtidal eelgrass (Zostera marina) restoration in the Dutch Wadden Sea

Katrin Rehlmeyer*, Oscar Franken, Tjisse van der Heide, Sander J. Holthuijsen, Kasper J. Meijer, Han Olff, Wouter Lengkeek, Karin Didderen, Laura L. Govers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Extensive subtidal eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadows (~150 km2) once grew in the Dutch Wadden Sea, supporting diverse species communities, but disappeared in the 1930s and have been absent ever since. Identifying the most critical bottlenecks for eelgrass survival is a crucial first step for reintroduction through active restoration measures. Seagrasses are ecosystem engineers, inducing self-facilitating feedbacks that ameliorate stressful conditions. Consequently, once seagrass, including its self-facilitating feedbacks, is lost, reintroduction can be challenging. Therefore, we aimed to test whether 1) sediment stabilization and 2) hydrodynamic stress relief would facilitate eelgrass survival in a field experiment replicated at two sites in the Dutch Wadden Sea. We induced feedbacks using biodegradable root-mimicking structures (BESE-elements) and sandbag barriers. Root mimics had a significant positive effect, increasing the chances of short-term survival by +67% compared to controls. Contrary to our expectations, barriers decreased short-term survival probabilities by -26%, likely due to hydrodynamic turbulence created by the barrier edges, leading to high erosion rates (-14 cm). Site selection proved crucial as short-term survival was entirely negated on one of the two study sites after five weeks due to high floating and epiphytic macroalgae loads. No long-term survival occurred, as plants died at the other site two weeks later. Overall, we found that sediment stabilization by root-mimicking structures was promising, whereas manipulating hydrodynamic forces using sandbag barriers had adverse effects. A mechanistic understanding of transplant failures is required before attempting large-scale restoration. Our study indicates that for seagrass restoration in the Wadden Sea, one should carefully consider 1) the reintroduction of positive feedbacks through restoration tools, 2) donor population choice and transplantation timing, and 3) site selection based on local biotic and abiotic conditions. Optimizing these restoration facets might lower additive stress to a degree that allows long-term survival.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1253067
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 28-May-2024


  • BESE-elements
  • hydrodynamic barrier
  • positive feedbacks
  • seagrass restoration
  • self-facilitation
  • subtidal eelgrass
  • Wadden Sea
  • Zostera marina


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