Marjolijn J.A. Christianen

Fish grazing enhanced by nutrient enrichment may limit invasive seagrass expansion

The success of invasive macrophytes can depend on local nutrient availability and consumer pressure, which may interact. We therefore experimentally investigated the interacting effects of nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) addition, the exclusion of large herbivorous fishes and mimicked grazing on the expansion rates of the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea. The experiments were established on Bonaire and Aruba, two islands in the southern Caribbean, which differ in fish community structure. We observed that multiple Caribbean fish species feed on H. stipulacea. At both study sites, nutrient enrichment decreased invasive leaf carbon:nitrogen ratios. However only on Bonaire, where herbivore fish abundance was 7 times higher and diversity was 4.5 times higher, did nutrient enrichment result in a significant reduction of H. stipulacea expansion into native Thalassia testudinum meadows. This effect was likely due to increased herbivory on nutrient enriched seagrass leaves, as we found that excluding large herbivorous fish (e.g. parrotfish) doubled invasive expansion rates in bare patches on Bonaire. On Aruba, H. stipulacea expansion rates were higher overall, which coincided with lower abundances and diversity of native fishes, and were limited by mimicked fish grazing. We suggest that top-down control by the native fish community may counteract eutrophication effects by increased grazing pressure on nutrient-rich invasive seagrass leaves. We conclude that diverse and abundant herbivore communities likely play an important role in limiting invasion success and their conservation and restoration may serve as a tool to slow down seagrass invasions.

Date
2021
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Aruba
Bonaire

Population recovery changes population composition at a major southern Caribbean juvenile developmental habitat for the green turtle, Chelonia mydas

Understanding the population composition and dynamics of migratory megafauna at key developmental habitats is critical for conservation and management. The present study investigated whether diferential recovery of Caribbean green turtle (Chelonia mydas) rookeries infuenced population composition at a major juvenile feeding ground in the southern Caribbean (Lac Bay, Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands) using genetic and demographic analyses. Genetic divergence indicated a strong temporal shift in population composition between 2006–2007 and 2015–2016 (φST=0.101, P<0.001). Juvenile recruitment (<75.0cm straight carapace length; SCL) from the north-western Caribbean increased from 12% to 38% while recruitment from the eastern Caribbean region decreased from 46% to 20% between 2006–2007 and 2015–2016. Furthermore, the product of the population growth rate and adult female abundance was a signifcant predictor for population composition in 2015–2016. Our results may refect early warning signals of declining reproductive output at eastern Caribbean rookeries, potential displacement efects of smaller rookeries by larger rookeries, and advocate for genetic monitoring as a useful method for monitoring trends in juvenile megafauna. Furthermore, these fndings underline the need for adequate conservation of juvenile developmental habitats and a deeper understanding of the interactions between megafaunal population dynamics in diferent habitats.

Referenced in BioNews 31 article "Genetic Testing to Measure Sea Turtle Conservation Success"

Date
2019
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Bonaire