For Seagrass, Biodiversity Is Both a Goal and A Means For Restoration

By Kat Kerlin

Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangrove forests work together to make the Coral Triangle of Indonesia a hotspot for marine biodiversity. The system supports valuable fisheries and endangered species and helps protect shorelines. But it is in global decline due to threats from coastal development, destructive fishing practices and climate change.

From left, Jordan Hollarsmith of Hasanuddin University and UC Davis, and Susan Williams and Katie DuBois of UC Davis look at seabed plots in Indonesia. Photo by Christine Sur, UC Davis

A UC Davis study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that in the case of seagrasses, biodiversity is not only a goal, but also a means for restoration of this important ecosystem.

The Coral Triangle is home to about 15 species of seagrasses, more than almost anywhere else on Earth. Previous seagrass restoration efforts have primarily focused on a single species.

For this study, the scientists transplanted six common seagrass species at four species-richness levels: monocultures, two, four, and five species. They analyzed how well the initial transplants survived and their rate of expansion or contraction for more than a year. The results showed that planting mixtures of diverse seagrass species improved their overall survival and growth.

“Seagrass beds are important habitats for fisheries species, for protecting shorelines from storm damage, and they provide livelihoods for many millions of humans around the world,” said Susan Williams, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. “Seagrass habitat is being lost at a rate of a football field’s area every half-hour, which threatens these important functions. We demonstrated we could improve seagrass restoration success by planting a mix of species, and not just a single species, which has been the common restoration practice in warm regions such as Florida, Texas, and also in Indonesia, where we performed the experiment.”

Additional authors on the paper are: Christine Sur and Jessica M. Abbott at UC Davis; Rohani Ambo-Rappe and Steven R. Limbong, Hasanuddin University, Indonesia. The work was supported by USAID, NSF, Mars Symbioscience and the Office of Global Affairs and the Agricultural Experimental Station at UC Davis.

More information

Read the study (PNAS)

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Kat Kerlin writes about the environment for UC Davis Strategic Communications. Follow her at @UCDavis_Kerlin

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