Influence of Rising Water Temperature on the Temperate Seagrass Species Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) in the Northeast USA
Frontiers in Marine Science
Sea surface temperature (SST) has increased worldwide since the beginning of the 20th century, a trend which is expected to continue. Changes in SST can have significant impacts on marine biota, including population-level shifts and alterations in community structure and diversity, and changes in the timing of ecosystem events. Seagrasses are a group of foundation species that grow in shallow coastal and estuarine systems, where they provide many ecosystem services. Eelgrass, Zostera marina L.,
... is the dominant seagrass species in the Northeast United States of America (USA). Multiple factors have been cited for losses in this region, including light reduction, eutrophication, and physical disturbance. Warming has the potential to exacerbate seagrass loss. Here, we investigate regional changes in eelgrass presence and abundance in relation to local water temperature using monitoring data from eight sites in the Northeastern USA (New Hampshire to Maryland) where a consistent monitoring protocol, SeagrassNet, has been applied. We use a hurdle model consisting of a generalized additive mixed model (GAMM) with binomial and beta response distributions for modeling eelgrass presence and abundance, respectively, in relation to the local summer average water temperature. We show that summer water temperature one year prior to monitoring is a significant predictor of eelgrass presence, but not abundance, on a regional scale. Above average summer temperatures correspond to a decrease in probability of eelgrass presence (and increased probability of eelgrass absence) the following year. Cooler than average temperatures in the preceding year, down to approximately 0.5°C below the site average, are associated with the highest predicted probability of eelgrass presence. Our findings suggest vulnerability in eelgrass meadows of the Northeast USA and emphasize the value of unified approaches to seagrass monitoring, conservation and management at the seascape scale.