Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Evidence of season-dependency in vegetation effects on macrofauna in temperate seagrass meadows (Baltic Sea)

Seagrasses and associated macrophytes are important components of coastal systems as ecosystem engineers, habitat formers, and providers of food and shelter for other organisms. The positive impacts of seagrass vegetation on zoobenthic abundance and diversity (as compared to bare sands) are well documented, but only in surveys performed in summer, which is the season of maximum canopy development. The study present first study of the relationship between the seasonal variability of seagrass vegetation and persistence and magnitude of contrasts in faunal communities between vegetated and bare sediments.The effects of vegetation cover on faunal species richness,diversity, and composition persisted throughout the year, but the magnitude of these effects varied seasonally and followed changes in macrophyte biomass. The widely held belief that macrophyte cover strongly influences benthic fauna in marine coastal habitats, which is based on summer surveys, should be revisited and complemented with information obtained in other seasons.


The magnitude of effects of seagrass vegetation on faunal diversity, and composition varied seasonally and followed changes in macrophyte biomass in the studied region. The assessment of the role of the macrophytes for other components of the ecosystem must be based on information obtained in different seasons.

In this study we have demonstrated that the effects of macrophytes on associated benthic communities in the southern Baltic Sea are seasonally depended. The positive effects of macrophyte cover on the univariate and multivariate characteristics of macrobenthic fauna were either weaker or could not be detected in late fall and early spring when macrophyte vegetation was least developed in terms of both biomass and taxonomic diversity. These findings indicate that in temperate, clearly seasonal systems the assessment of the ecosystem engineer impact cannot be based solely on observations performed in one season only. The common notion that macrophyte cover has a strong influence on benthic fauna in marine coastal habitats is actually mostly based on surveys performed in summer when macrophyte cover is best developed. Thus, the effects of macrophytes can be overestimated to some extent. More studies of seagrass systems performed in other seasons, especially in winter, are strongly recommended if we are to better understand the actual role of macrophyte vegetation in structuring macrozoobenthic communities.


Lead Author:

Maria Włodarska-Kowalczuk & Joanna Piwowarczyk
( )
Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences (IOPAS)
Date of research: February 2014

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
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