What lies beneath: Why knowledge of belowground biomass dynamics is crucial to effective seagrass management

J. Arie Vonk*, Marjolijn J. A. Christianen, Johan Stapel, Katherine R. O'Brien

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Conservation of seagrasses meadows is important, because these habitats are ecologically important and under threat. Monitoring and modelling are essential tools for assessing seagrass condition and potential threats, however there are many seagrass indicators to choose from, and differentiating between natural variability and declining conditions poses a serious challenge. Tropical seagrass meadows in the Indo-Pacific, in contrast to most temperate meadows, are characterized by a multi-species composition and a year-round growth. Differences in characteristics between species growing within one meadow could induce uncertainty in the assessment of the dynamics of these meadows if variation in productivity and related biomass turnover timescales are not taken into consideration. We present data on biomass distribution, production and turnover timescales of above- and belowground tissues for three key tropical seagrass species (Thalassia hemprichii, Cymodocea rotundata and Halodule uninervis) in two mixed-species meadows in the Spermonde Archipelago, Indonesia. Seagrass leaf turnover time scales were comparable for the three studied seagrass species and varied between 25 and 30 days. Variation in leaf and rhizome turnover timescales were small (or insignificant) between the two meadows. In contrast, rhizome turnover time scales were around ten times longer than leaf turnover timescales, and large differences in rhizome turnover time scales (200-500 days) were observed between the species. The late-successional species T. hemprichii had much slower rhizome turnover compared to the two early successional species. Furthermore, since rhizome biomass has a much longer turnover time compared to leaf biomass, changes in rhizome biomass reflect effects on seagrass meadows on a much longer timescale compared to changes in leaf biomass for these tropical meadows. We conclude that belowground biomass dynamics are an important proxy to assess long-term effects of environmental stressors on seagrass ecosystems and should be included in tropical seagrass management programmes. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-267
Number of pages9
JournalEcological indicators
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2015


  • Tropical seagrass
  • Biomass turnover
  • Meadow dynamics
  • Modelling
  • Multi-species
  • Time scales
  • BEDS

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