Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Zostera


Self-facilitation through ecosystem engineering (i.e., organism modification of the abiotic environment) and consumer-resource interactions are both major determinants of spatial patchiness in ecosystems. However, interactive effects of these two mechanisms on spatial complexity have not been extensively studied. We investigated the mechanisms underlying a spatial mosaic of low-tide exposed hummocks and waterlogged hollows on an intertidal mudflat in the Wadden Sea dominated by the seagrass Zostera noltii. A combination of field measurements, an experiment and a spatially explicit model indicated that the mosaic resulted from localized sediment accretion by seagrass followed by selective waterfowl grazing. Hollows were bare in winter, but were rapidly colonized by seagrass during the growth season. Colonized hollows were heavily grazed by brent geese and widgeon in autumn, converting these patches to a bare state again and disrupting sediment accretion by seagrass. In contrast, hummocks were covered by seagrass throughout the year and were rarely grazed, most likely because the waterfowl were not able to employ their preferred but water requiring feeding strategy (‘dabbling’) here. Our study exemplifies that interactions between ecosystem engineering by a foundation species (seagrass) and consumption (waterfowl grazing) can increase spatial complexity at the landscape level.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Systems ecology, North Sea, Zostera, Seagrass, Zosteraceae, Wadden Sea, Frisian Islands


Invasive species can alter coastal ecosystems both directly, e.g. through competition for substratum and nutrients, and indirectly. Indirect effects may be mediated by creation of dissimilar or inimical habitats, changes in predator and/or prey assemblages, alterations in associated biota, and perturbations of water movement and thermal regimes. Previous studies have shown that invasive algae can modify native habitat architecture, disrupt intricately linked food webs and alter epibiotic assemblages. In the UK, the seagrass Zostera marina supports a diverse epibiotic assemblage, influencing key factors such as sediment dynamics, depositional regime and trophic linkages. Increasing encroachment of the invasive alga Sargassum muticum into seagrass meadows changes the physical and chemical characteristics of the local environment and creates the potential for changes in the epibionts associated with the seagrass blades, threatening the integrity of the seagrass ecosystem. We investigated the effects of S. muticum invasion upon the epibiota of Z. marina in a drowned river valley in SW England seasonally from spring to autumn over four years in an in-situ manipulative experiment, comparing permanent quadrats with and without artificially introduced S. muticum. Epibiota were weighed, identified to the most detailed operational taxonomic unit (OTU) possible, and unitary organisms were enumerated. Multivariate PERMANOVA+ analysis revealed significant differences in epibiont assemblages between Sargassum treatments. Linear mixed effects models indicated that differences in epibiota assemblage composition were not reflected as significant differences in mean biomass per sample, or number of epibiont OTUs per sample. We conclude that S. muticum invasion into Z. marina meadows may significantly alter the species composition and abundance distribution of epibiotic assemblages found on the blades of the seagrass. Thus S. muticum invasion could have more wide-reaching effects on processes within coastal ecosystems than predicted purely by direct effects.

Concepts: Ecology, Ecosystem, Invasive species, Introduced species, Zostera, Seagrass, Zosteraceae, Sargassum


Here, we present the draft genome sequences of Vibrio splendidus UCD-SED7 and UCD-SED10 (phylum Proteobacteria). These strains were isolated from sediment surrounding Zostera marina roots near the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (Bodega, Bay, California). These assemblies contain 5,334,236 bp and 5,904,824 bp, respectively.

Concepts: Bacteria, United States, Proteobacteria, Conscription in the United States, Zostera, University of California, University of California, Davis


This study compares the structure of eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) meadows and associated food webs in two eelgrass habitats in Denmark, differing in exposure, connection to the open sea, nutrient enrichment and water transparency. Meadow structure strongly reflected the environmental conditions in each habitat. The eutrophicated, protected site had higher biomass of filamentous algae, lower eelgrass biomass and shoot density, longer and narrower leaves, and higher above to below ground biomass ratio compared to the less nutrient-enriched and more exposed site. The faunal community composition and food web structure also differed markedly between sites with the eutrophicated, enclosed site having higher biomass of consumers and less complex food web. These relationships resulted in a column shaped biomass distribution of the consumers at the eutrophicated site whereas the less nutrient-rich site showed a pyramidal biomass distribution of consumers coupled with a more diverse consumer community. The differences in meadow and food web structure of the two seagrass habitats, suggest how physical setting may shape ecosystem response and resilience to anthropogenic pressure. We encourage larger, replicated studies to further disentangle the effects of different environmental variables on seagrass food web structure.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Coral reef, Ecosystem, Trophic level, Phytoplankton, Food chain, Consumer protection, Zostera


Global declines in coastal foundation species highlight the importance of effective restoration. In this study, we examined the effects of source population identity and diversity (one vs. three sources per plot) on seagrass (Zostera marina) transplant success. The field experiment was replicated at two locations in Massachusetts with adjacent natural Zostera marina beds to test for local adaptation and source diversity effects on shoot density. We also collected morphological and genetic data to characterize variation within and among source populations, and evaluate whether they were related to performance. Transplants grew and expanded until six months post-transplantation, but then steadily declined at both sites. Prior to declines, we observed variation in performance among source populations at one site that was related to morphological traits: the populations with the longest leaves had the highest shoot densities, whereas the population with the shortest leaves performed the worst at six months post-transplantation. In addition, multiple source plots at this same transplant site consistently had similar or higher shoot densities than single source plots, and shoots from weak-performing populations showed improved performance in multiple source plots. We found no evidence for home site advantage or benefits of population-level genetic variation in early transplant performance at either site. Our results show limited effects of source population on early transplant performance and suggest that factors (e.g., morphology) other than home site advantage and population genetic variation serve a role. Based on our overall findings that transplant success varied among source populations and that population diversity at the plot level had positive but limited effects on individual and plot performance, we support planting shoots from multiple source sites in combination to enhance transplant success, particularly in the absence of detailed information on individual source characteristics.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Population density, Population genetics, Plot, Zostera


Pine wilt disease (PWD), a destructive disease for pine trees, is caused by the pine wood nematode (PWN), Bursaphelenchus xylophilus and additional bacteria. In this study, extracts of Zostera marina showed a high nematicidal activity against PWN and some of the bacteria that it carries. Light yellow crystals were obtained from extracts of Z. marina through solvent extraction, followed by chromatography on AB-8 resin and crystallization. The NMR and HPLC analysis showed that the isolated compound was rosmarinic acid (RosA). RosA showed effective nematicidal activity, of which the LC(50) (50% lethal concentration) to PWN at 24 h, 48 h and 72 h was 1.18 mg/g, 1.05 mg/g and 0.95 mg/g, respectively. To get a high yield rate of RosA from Z. marina, single factor experiments and an L(9) (34) orthogonal experiment were performed. This extraction process involved 70% ethanol for 3 h at 40 °C. The extraction dosage was 1:50 (w/v). The highest yield of RosA from Zostera was 3.13 mg/g DW (dried weight). The crude extracts of Zostera marina (10 mg/mL) and RosA (1 mg/mL) also showed inhibitory effects to some bacterial strains carried by PWN: Klebsiella sp., Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Streptomyces sp. and Pantoea agglomerans. The results of these studies provide clues for preparing pesticide to control PWD from Z. marina.

Concepts: Bacteria, Nematodes, Pinophyta, Finland, Pine, Streptomyces, Zostera, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus


Seagrasses colonized the sea on at least three independent occasions to form the basis of one of the most productive and widespread coastal ecosystems on the planet. Here we report the genome of Zostera marina (L.), the first, to our knowledge, marine angiosperm to be fully sequenced. This reveals unique insights into the genomic losses and gains involved in achieving the structural and physiological adaptations required for its marine lifestyle, arguably the most severe habitat shift ever accomplished by flowering plants. Key angiosperm innovations that were lost include the entire repertoire of stomatal genes, genes involved in the synthesis of terpenoids and ethylene signalling, and genes for ultraviolet protection and phytochromes for far-red sensing. Seagrasses have also regained functions enabling them to adjust to full salinity. Their cell walls contain all of the polysaccharides typical of land plants, but also contain polyanionic, low-methylated pectins and sulfated galactans, a feature shared with the cell walls of all macroalgae and that is important for ion homoeostasis, nutrient uptake and O2/CO2 exchange through leaf epidermal cells. The Z. marina genome resource will markedly advance a wide range of functional ecological studies from adaptation of marine ecosystems under climate warming, to unravelling the mechanisms of osmoregulation under high salinities that may further inform our understanding of the evolution of salt tolerance in crop plants.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Organism, Plant, Cell wall, Zostera, Seagrass


A fundamental goal of the study of ecology is to determine the drivers of habitat-forming vegetation, with much emphasis given to the relative importance to vegetation of “bottom-up” forces such as the role of nutrients and “top-down” forces such as the influence of herbivores and their predators. For coastal vegetation (e.g., kelp, seagrass, marsh, and mangroves) it has been well demonstrated that alterations to bottom-up forcing can cause major disturbances leading to loss of dominant vegetation. One such process is anthropogenic nutrient loading, which can lead to major changes in the abundance and species composition of primary producers, ultimately affecting important ecosystem services. In contrast, much less is known about the relative importance of apex predators on coastal vegetated ecosystems because most top predator populations have been depleted or lost completely. Here we provide evidence that an unusual four-level trophic cascade applies in one such system, whereby a top predator mitigates the bottom-up influences of nutrient loading. In a study of seagrass beds in an estuarine ecosystem exposed to extreme nutrient loading, we use a combination of a 50-y time series analysis, spatial comparisons, and mesocosm and field experiments to demonstrate that sea otters (Enhydra lutris) promote the growth and expansion of eelgrass (Zostera marina) through a trophic cascade, counteracting the negative effects of agriculturally induced nutrient loading. Our results add to a small but growing body of literature illustrating that significant interactions between bottom-up and top-down forces occur, in this case with consequences for the conservation of valued ecosystem services provided by seagrass.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Trophic level, Food chain, Dog, Apex predator, Sea otter, Zostera


Zostera marina (also known as eelgrass) is a foundation species in coastal and marine ecosystems worldwide and is a model for studies of seagrasses (a paraphyletic group in the order Alismatales) that include all the known fully submerged marine angiosperms. In recent years, there has been a growing appreciation of the potential importance of the microbial communities (i.e., microbiomes) associated with various plant species. Here we report a study of variation in Z. marina microbiomes from a field site in Bodega Bay, CA.

Concepts: Organism, Plant, Ecology, Fern, Dicotyledon, Zostera, Seagrass, Zosteraceae


Plant-associated microorganisms are essential for their hosts' survival and performance. Yet, most plant microbiome studies to date have focused on terrestrial species sampled across relatively small spatial scales. Here we report results of a global-scale analysis of microbial communities associated with leaf and root surfaces of the marine eelgrass Zostera marina throughout its range in the Northern Hemisphere. By contrasting host microbiomes with those of surrounding seawater and sediment, we uncovered the structure, composition and variability of microbial communities associated with eelgrass. We also investigated hypotheses about the assembly of the eelgrass microbiome using a metabolic modeling approach. Our results reveal leaf communities displaying high variability and spatial turnover, that mirror their adjacent coastal seawater microbiomes. In contrast, roots showed relatively low compositional turnover and were distinct from surrounding sediment communities - a result driven by the enrichment of predicted sulfur-oxidizing bacterial taxa on root surfaces. Predictions from metabolic modeling of enriched taxa were consistent with a habitat filtering community assembly mechanism whereby similarity in resource use drives taxonomic co-occurrence patterns on belowground, but not aboveground, host tissues. Our work provides evidence for a core eelgrass root microbiome with putative functional roles and highlights potentially disparate processes influencing microbial community assembly on different plant compartments.IMPORTANCE Plants depend critically on their associated microbiome, yet the structure of microbial communities found on marine plants remains poorly understood in comparison to terrestrial species. Seagrasses are the only flowering plants that live entirely in marine environments. The return of terrestrial seagrass ancestors to oceans is among the most extreme habitat shifts documented in plants, making them an ideal testbed for the study of microbial symbioses with plants that experience relatively harsh abiotic conditions. In this study, we report results of a global sampling effort to extensively characterize the structure of microbial communities associated with the widespread seagrass species, Zostera marina or eelgrass, across its geographic range. Our results reveal major differences in the structure and composition of above- versus belowground microbial communities on eelgrass surfaces, as well as their relationships with the environment and host.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Bacteria, Microbiology, Plant, Water, Zostera, Seagrass, Zosteraceae