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The role of epiphytic prokaryotes in facilitating spatial subsidies in seagrass meadows

Benthic primary ecosystems are key energy sources in coastal marine environments and understanding the movement of material and sources among habitats is of critical importance for the management of marine environments. Although we tend to have a simplistic vision of the food chain, most food webs are the results of complex interactions and connections among different habitats.

Nutrients can flow from most productive ecosystems, known as ‘donor ecosystems’, to less productive ones (recipients). Once the allochthonous material is deposited within a recipient habitat, it may have substantially implications on the productivity and food web structure. However, very often we tend to forget that transformations of organic material are likely to be mediated by microorganisms and microbes are key players in the cycling of all the nutrients. The uptake and recycling of dissolved and particulate organic matter derived from the donor system by microorganisms provide the pathways for spatial subsidies. Within the temperate waters of South-Western Australia, organic material derived from kelp and seston has been hypothesized to enhance seagrass productivity by introducing an external supply of nitrogen. Allochthonous organic matter attaches to seagrass leaves or is deposited on the sediment where the activities of heterotrophic bacteria can enhance the availability of nutrients for seagrasses. However, very little is known about the nitrogen cycling by microorganisms within seagrass meadows and the majority of studies have focused only on microorganisms associated with seagrasses rhizosphere. Almost nothing is known about the prokaryotes seagrass leaves-associated and their contribution to the plant’s nitrogen requirement. This study will determine the importance of prokaryotes associated with seagrass leaves in enhancing nitrogen availability for uptake by seagrasses, with a focus on their role in processing allochthonous sources of nutrients in seagrass meadows.

List the organisation(s) funding this project.

Department of Parks and Wild Life - DPAW
Collaborative Research Network - CRN
Edith Cowan University - ECU

Project duration

Jan 2013- Jan 2016


Flavia Tarquinio (PhD Student)
Associate Professor Glenn Hyndes
Dr Annette Koenders
Dr Christin Sawstrom
Dr Bonnie Laverock, University of Technology, Sydney
Prof. Carlos Duarte, University of Western Australia

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