A facultative mutualism facilitates European seagrass meadows

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Coastal ecosystem functioning often hinges on habitat-forming foundation species that engage in positive interactions (e.g. facilitation and mutualism) to reduce environmental stress. Seagrasses are important foundation species in coastal zones but are rapidly declining with losses typically linked to intensifying global change-related environmental stress. There is growing evidence that loss or disruption of positive interactions can amplify coastal ecosystem degradation as it compromises its stress mitigating capacity. Multiple recent studies highlight that seagrass can engage in a facultative mutualistic relationship with lucinid bivalves that alleviate sulphide toxicity. So far, however, the generality of this mutualism, and how its strength and relative importance depend on environmental conditions, remains to be investigated. Here we study the importance of the seagrass-lucinid mutualistic interaction on a continental-scale using a field survey across Europe. We found that the lucinid bivalve Loripes orbiculatus is associated with the seagrasses Zostera noltii and Zostera marina across a large latitudinal range. At locations where the average minimum temperature was above 1 °C, L. orbiculatus was present in 79% of the Zostera meadows; whereas, it was absent below this temperature. At locations above this minimum temperature threshold, mud content was the second most important determinant explaining the presence or absence of L. orbiculatus. Further analyses suggest that the presence of the lucinids have a positive effect on seagrass biomass by mitigating sulphide stress. Finally, results of a structural equation model (SEM) support the existence of a mutualistic feedback between L. orbiculatus and Z. noltii. We argue that this seagrass-lucinid mutualism should be more solidly integrated into management practices to improve seagrass ecosystem resilience to global change as well as the success of restoration efforts.

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DOI 10.1111/ecog.06636

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de Fouw, J. , Holmer, M. , Beca‐Carretero, P. , Boström, C. , Brice, J. , Brun, F. G. , Cruijsen, P. M. , Govers, L. L. , Garmendia, J. M. , Meysick, L. , Pajusalu, L. , Richir, J. , Robroek, B. , Valle, M. , van der Ven, P. , Eklöf, J. S. and van der Heide, T. (2023): A facultative mutualism facilitates European seagrass meadows , Ecography, 2023 (5) . doi: 10.1111/ecog.06636

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