Coastal ecosystems remain a significant part of human history and now support an estimated 50% of our global population through the provision of ecosystem goods and services. Estuarine environments in particular are threatened by overexploitation, climate change and extreme climate events. A major focus of management agencies around the world is the protection of these areas for their high social and economic value. Habitat forming species, like seagrasses, typically dominate estuaries improving their physical and chemical conditions by cycling nutrients, increasing oxygen and stabilising sediment. To maintain estuarine condition, research is require to understand the ecological resilience of seagrasses which is their ability to resist or recover from disturbance. This will provide the basis for effective actions which promote the ecological resilience of seagrasses and safeguard the productivity of estuaries.
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) is responsible for monitoring seagrasses in estuaries around south-Western Australia (WA) and has reported substantial declines over the past few years. In collaboration with DWER, I aim to understand the influence of genetic diversity on the ecological resilience of seagrasses to prevent further losses. Previous research has demonstrated that the connectivity and genetic diversity of seagrass populations promotes their resilience but this has not yet been explored in WA. I will characterise the genetic diversity of seagrasses within and between estuaries to gain a better understanding of population connectivity. I will also be conducting controlled experiments to simulate some of the isolated and synergistic stressors (climate change and extreme climate events) that these populations are exposed to. The objective is to provide a basis for the development of practical management outcomes that ensure the condition of our estuaries, through improved management of seagrasses, can be maintained now and into the future. Many aspects of the Western Australian lifestyle are related to water whether it be fishing, bird-watching, for cultural ceremonies or boating. Retaining seagrasses is necessary to prevent estuaries shifting to degraded states and the loss of these associated goods and services.
Ecological resilience, restoration, management, seagrass reproduction, extreme climate events, metrics, climate change, human impact, plastic pollution, microplastics, science communication, community engagement, citizen science, public awareness
Ms Chanelle Webster
Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
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