Seagrasses have declined at a global scale due to light reduction and toxicity events, caused by eutrophication and increased sediment loading. Although several studies have tested effects of light reduction and toxicants on seagrasses, there is at present no information available on their interacting effects. In a full-factorial 5-day laboratory experiment, we studied short-term interactive effects of light conditions, pH and reduced nitrogen (NHx) in the water layer, mimicking pulses of river discharge, on the tropical early successional species Halodule uninervis and the late successional species Thalassia hemprichii.
In contrast to recent results reported for the temperate species Zostera marina, increased NHx supply did not affect leaf mortality or photochemical efficiency in H. uninervis and in 7 out of 8 treatments for T. hemprichii. However, both tropical species demonstrated striking differences in nitrogen accumulation, free amino acid composition and free NH3 accumulation. The increase in tissue nitrogen content was two times higher for H. uninervis than for T. hemprichii. Nitrogen stored as free amino acids (especially asparagine) only increased in H. uninervis. High pH only affected T. hemprichii, but only when not shaded, by doubling its free NH3 concentrations, concomitantly decreasing its photosynthetic efficiency.
Our results indicate that the early successional H. uninervis has higher tolerance to high NHx loads as compared to the late successional T. hemprichii. H. uninervis was better able to avoid toxic internal NHx levels by further assimilating glutamine into asparagine in contrast to T. hemprichii. Moreover, both tropical species seem to cope much better with high NHx than the temperate Z. marina. The implications for the distribution and succession of seagrass species under high nutrient loads are discussed.