Bioirrigation effects of Upogebia affinis within sargassum-impacted T. testudinum seagrass habitat
Thalassia testudinum seagrass is defined as important foundation species by serving as nursery area, giving coastal protection, maintaining high water qualities and their function as carbon sink. In the east Caribbean Sea, T.testudinum beds are under threat caused by the decomposition of excessive amounts of holo-pelagic sargassum blooms (Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans), creating anoxic conditions and causing the production of hydrogen sulfide( H2S) in the porewater. Hence, sulfide intrusion and toxicity can occur in T.testudinum causing lower plant performances and big scale seagrass mortalities. Positive effects of bioturbation were thought to relieve sulfide stress from T.testudinum by modifying the geo-chemistry by a process called ‘bio-irrigation’. This research assessed the effects of Bio-irrigating Upogebia shrimps on the porewater sulfide and sulfide plant intrusion within T.testudinum habitat. Firstly, a monitoring study was carried out to determined the effects of habitat and sargassum decomposition on Upogebia hole densities(indicator for Upogebia densities). Secondly, an Upogebia hole manipulation experiment was setup to investigate the effect of adding and removing bio-irrigating shrimps(Upogebia affinis) on porewater sulfide and sulfide intrusion within T.testudinum seagrass. In addition to the experimental effects, the overall effects of Upogebia hole densities on porewater sulfide and sulfide intrusion taken over the whole experimental period were investigated to account for possible delayed effects on sulfide intrusion within T.testudinum. Our results showed highest Upogebia hole densities in bare habitat with lower sargassum decomposition. Besides the possible negative effects of T.testudinum habitat reducing burrowing space for Upogebia, the bare habitat mainly consisted of Halimeda calcified sediment which likely facilitated the Upogebia burrow construction. Within the overall effects, Upogebia hole density showed negative effects on both porewater sulfide and total sulfur within T.testudinum leaf suggesting some possible bio-irrigation. Within the treatment effects, the removal intervention caused higher TS and lower δ34S in the T.testudinum leaf, but this was just visible after 16 days, indicating delayed effects of the removal intervention. Future mesocosm experiments are recommended to account for side effects and for more accurate sulfide measurements. This will fill more scientific knowledge gaps on the role of Upogebia shrimps as potential sulfide stress relievers for T.testudinum seagrass.