Anthropogenic Disturbances and Shifts in Tropical Seagrass Ecosystems
Sammanfattning: Seagrasses constitute the basis for diverse and productive ecosystems worldwide. In East Africa, they provide important ecosystem services (e.g. fisheries) but are potentially threatened by increasing resource use and lack of enforced management regulations. The major aim of this PhD thesis was to investigate effects of anthropogenic distur-bances, primarily seaweed farming and coastal fishery, in East African seagrass beds. Seaweed farming, often depicted as a sustainable form of aquaculture, had short- and long-term effects on seagrass growth and abundance that cascaded up through the food web to the level of fishery catches. The coastal fishery, a major subsistence activity in the region, can by removing urchin predators indirectly increase densities of the sea urchin Tripneustes gratilla, which has overgrazed seagrasses in several areas. A study using simulated grazing showed that high magnitude leaf removal – typical of grazing urchins – affected seagrasses more than low magnitude removal, typical of fish grazing. Different responses in two co-occurring seagrass species furthermore indicate that high seagrass diversity in tropical seagrass beds could buffer overgrazing effects in the long run. Finally, a literature synthesis suggests that anthropogenic disturbances could drive shifts in seagrass ecosystems to an array of alternative regimes dominated by other or-ganisms (macroalgae, bivalves, burrowing shrimp, polychaetes, etc.). The formation of novel feedback mechanisms makes these regimes resilient to disturbances like seagrass recovery and transplantation projects. Overall, this suggests that resource use activities linked to seagrasses can have large-scale implications if the scale exceeds critical levels. This emphasizes the need for holistic and adaptive management at the seascape level, specifically involving improved techniques for seaweed farming and fisheries, protection of keystone species, and ecosystem-based management approaches.
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