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Drought, Mutualism Breakdown, and Landscape-Scale Degradation of Seagrass Beds
de Fouw, J.; Govers, L.; van de Koppel, J.; van Belzen, J.; Dorigo, W.; Sidi Cheikh, M.A.; Christianen, M.J.A.; van der Reijden, K.J.; van der Geest, M.; Piersma, T,; Smolders, A.J.P.; Olff, H.; Lamers, L.P.M.; van Gils, J.A.; van der Heide, T. (2016). Drought, Mutualism Breakdown, and Landscape-Scale Degradation of Seagrass Beds. Curr. Biol. 26(8): 1051-1056.
In: Current Biology. Cell Press: London. ISSN 0960-9822, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in Authors 

Authors  Top 
  • de Fouw, J., more
  • Govers, L.
  • van de Koppel, J., more
  • van Belzen, J., more
  • Dorigo, W.
  • Sidi Cheikh, M.A.
  • Christianen, M.J.A.
  • van der Reijden, K.J.
  • van der Geest, M., more
  • Piersma, T,, more
  • Smolders, A.J.P.
  • Olff, H.
  • Lamers, L.P.M., more
  • van Gils, J.A., more
  • van der Heide, T.

    In many marine ecosystems, biodiversity criticallydepends on foundation species such as corals andseagrasses that engage in mutualistic interactions[1–3]. Concerns grow that environmental disruptionof marine mutualisms exacerbates ecosystem degradation,with breakdown of the obligate coral mutualism(‘‘coral bleaching’’) being an iconic example[2, 4, 5]. However, as these mutualisms are mostlyfacultative rather than obligate, it remains unclearwhether mutualism breakdown is a common riskin marine ecosystems, and thus a potential acceleratorof ecosystem degradation. Here, we provideevidence that drought triggered landscape-scaleseagrass degradation and show the consequent failureof a facultative mutualistic feedback betweenseagrass and sulfide-consuming lucinid bivalvesthat in turn appeared to exacerbate the observedcollapse. Local climate and remote sensing analysesrevealed seagrass collapse after a summer withintense low-tide drought stress. Potential analysis—a novel approach to detect feedback-mediatedstate shifts—revealed two attractors (healthy anddegraded states) during the collapse, suggestingthat the drought disrupted internal feedbacks tocause abrupt, patch-wise degradation. Field measurementscomparing degraded patches that werehealthy before the collapse with patches that remainedhealthy demonstrated that bivalves declineddramatically in degrading patches with associatedhigh sediment sulfide concentrations, confirmingthe breakdown of the mutualistic seagrass-lucinidfeedback. Our findings indicate that drought triggeredmutualism breakdown, resulting in toxic sulfideconcentrations that aggravated seagrass degradation.We conclude that external disturbances cancause sudden breakdown of facultative marine mutualisticfeedbacks. As this may amplify ecosystemdegradation, wesuggest including mutualisms inmarineconservation and restoration approaches.

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