Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Nutrient status of seagrasses cannot be inferred from system-scale distribution of phosphorus in Shark Bay, Western Australia

Matthew W. Fraser A E , Gary A. Kendrick A , Pauline F. Grierson B , James W. Fourqurean C , Mathew A. Vanderklift D and Diana I. Walker A

A School of Plant Biology and The UWA Oceans Institute, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

B School of Plant Biology and Ecosystem Research Group, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

C Department of Biological Sciences and Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University, North Miami, FL 33181, USA.

D CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Private Bag 5, Wembley, WA 6913, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: matthew.fraser@uwa.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 63(11) 1015-1026 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF12026
Submitted: 30 January 2012  Accepted: 20 August 2012   Published: 26 November 2012

Abstract

Differences in phosphorus (P) availability can influence the ecology and physiology of seagrass communities; and are usually inferred from changes in the relative P content in seagrass leaves. Shark Bay is a subtropical marine embayment, with decreasing P concentrations in the water column and sediments from north to south across the entire embayment. We examined the P and nitrogen (N) content of seagrass leaves and P content of sediments across the Faure Sill and Wooramel delta region of Shark Bay, to determine whether the leaf content of seagrasses in Shark Bay also decreased from north to south over smaller spatial scales. Nutrient content of Amphibolis antarctica and Halodule uninervis were highly variable and were not strongly correlated with sediment P concentrations. Mean N : P ratios of seagrasses (<33.5) were not indicative of P limitation, as has been previously assumed for Shark Bay. We conclude that availability of P for uptake by seagrasses across Shark Bay may be highly localised and cannot be predicted from system-scale gradients (>100 km) of sedimentary P distributions. We suggest that P availability to seagrasses is more likely a complex function of differing nutrient inputs, rates of delivery to the plants and cycling rates.

Additional keywords: Amphibolis antarctica, calcareous, carbonate, C : N : P ratios, Halodule uninervis, river floods, salinity.


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