Seagrass: A Dynamic System
Small herbivorous invertebrates consume algal epiphytes, reducing negative effects (e.g. shading) on seagrass. Much research to date has focused on crustacean grazers, and comparatively little on gastropods. The aim of this research was to 1) examine seasonal and spatial variation in seagrass and associated gastropods in a large, tidal estuary and 2) examine the response of seagrass and epiphytic algae to nutrient enrichment and grazing pressure in a laboratory experiment. Surveys were conducted in summer and winter of 2016 to assess the seasonal fluctuations in the associated gastropods and relationships with seagrass and epiphyte biomass within three sites in the Porirua Harbour. Seagrass, gastropods and epiphytic algae showed seasonal trends, including evidence of a loss of grazer control on epiphytes during winter. Potamopyrgus estuarinus, Notoacmea scapha, Diloma spp. and Micrelenchus spp. were the dominant gastropod grazers in the system in both seasons. The gastropod assemblage and seagrass characteristics differed between sites, likely in response to small scale differences in abiotic factors. Seagrass from Elsdon (a site with elevated nutrient levels) and Browns Bay (a relatively pristine site) were used to investigate the role of select grazers and nutrient enrichment on epiphyte and seagrass growth. Nutrient treatments represented nitrate and phosphate concentrations of Elsdon (High), a 20% increase (High+) and a control (no addition). Little evidence was found for epiphyte regulation by gastropods, nor did epiphyte loads increase with nutrient addition. Seagrass from Browns Bay responded more strongly to High+ treatments than that of Elsdon. The results suggest that seagrass from Elsdon is adapted to the site’s high nutrient loads, where seagrass from Browns Bay is not. The results of this thesis support prior research findings of high variation in seagrass over a small scale, and adds to the currently lacking information on the role of micro-grazers in New Zealand’s seagrass meadows.