Linking plant communities on land and at sea: The effects of Posidonia oceanica wrack on the structure of dune vegetation

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Although terrestrial and marine ecosystems are often perceived as clearly distinct, in coastal areas biological communities on land and at sea are in fact intimately linked. One way in which terrestrial and marine systems interact is through the accumulation of seagrass wrack on beaches, which plays an important role as a nutrient input in coastal dune food webs. Here we test whether accumulated beach-cast wrack also influences the structure and diversity of coastal dune plant communities. Relying on a database of 572 vegetation surveys distributed across the island of Sardinia, we used mixed-effects models to compare the vegetation cover and species richness of plant communities exposed to different amounts of Posidonia oceanica beach-cast wrack. We found that beaches which receive high amounts of P. oceanica wrack have considerably greater vegetation cover (10% on average) than those with fewer deposits. The positive relationship between beach-cast wrack and vegetation cover was especially strong in nearshore plant communities, becoming progressively weaker along the habitat zonation. A similar pattern was found for species richness: beaches with high levels of accumulated wrack had more diverse drift line and foredune plant communities, while habitats further away from the shoreline were unaffected. Our study is the first to present evidence suggesting that activities which reduce wrack accumulation on beaches – either through direct removal of deposits or by causing P. oceanica seabeds to decline – can have effects on both the structure and diversity of coastal dune plant communities. Effective management of Mediterranean coastal dune ecosystems will require developing clear strategies for the removal and relocation of accumulated beach-cast wrack.

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