Does Warming Enhance the Effects of Eutrophication in the Seagrass Posidonia oceanica?

Jessica Pazzaglia, Alex Santillán-Sarmiento, Stephanie B. Helber, Miriam Ruocco, Antonio Terlizzi, Lázaro Marín-Guirao, Gabriele Procaccini

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Seagrass meadows are disappearing at rates comparable to those reported for mangroves, coral reefs, and tropical rainforests. One of the main causes of their decline is the so-called cultural eutrophication, i.e., the input of abnormal amounts of nutrients derived from human activities. Besides the impact of eutrophication at a local scale, the occurrence of additional stress factors such as global sea warming may create synergisms in detriment of seagrass meadows’ health. In the present study, we aimed to evaluate if plants undergoing chronic cultural eutrophication and plants growing in relatively pristine waters are more (or less) sensitive to heat stress, nutrient load and the combination of both stressors. To address this question, a mesocosm experiment was conducted using Posidonia oceanica collected from two environments with different nutrients load history. Plants were exposed in controlled conditions to high nutrient concentrations, increased temperature and their combination for 5 weeks, to assess the effect of the single stressors and their interaction. Our results revealed that plants experiencing chronic cultural eutrophication (EU) are more sensitive to further exposure to multiple stressors than plants growing in oligotrophic habitats (OL). OL and EU plants showed different morphological traits and physiological performances, which corroborates the role of local pressures in activating different strategies in response to global environmental changes. EU-plants appeared to be weaker during the treatments, showing the greatest percentage of mortality, particularly under increased temperature. Temperature and nutrient treatments showed opposite effects when tested individually and an offset response when combined. The activation of physiological strategies with high energetic expenses to cope with excess of nutrients and other stressors, could affect plants present and future persistence, particularly under eutrophic conditions. Our results represent a step forward in understanding the complex interactions that occur in natural environments. Moreover, unraveling intraspecific strategies and the role of local acclimation/adaptation in response to multiple stressors could be crucial for seagrass conservation strategies under a climate change scenario.
Original languageEnglish
Article number564805
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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