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Within intertidal areas of European Atlantic coasts the distribution of the small seagrass Zostera noltii and the halophyte Spartina anglica can partially overlap, despite numerous biomechanical, demographic and ecophysiological differences. Both species are known to be ecosystem engineers that modify their habitat by reducing hydrodynamic energy within their canopies. In this study we investigate the influence of biomechanical (i.e. shoot flexibility) and demographic (i.e. shoot density) characteristics of these intertidal plants on their interaction with unidirectional currents to (1) understand their differences in ecosystem engineering capacity and (2) identify which physical traits explains these differences. In a flume tank, hydrodynamic variables were measured within transplanted S. anglica and Z. noltii meadows, and their corresponding simplified mimics. The results revealed that stiff canopies had a larger potential capacity (relative to flexible ones) to trap sediment, as in these vegetations velocity reduction within the canopy combined with a sufficient volumetric flow rate to provide sediment for settling. Flexible canopies were most efficient at reducing erosion by reconfiguration of their leaves. Shoot density increased the magnitude of these effects when values were moderate. However, the capacity to increase sediment accretion disappeared when the maximum velocity attenuation was reached and the flow of water was relocated on top of the canopy. These habitat modifications may provide ecological benefits for saltmarsh and seagrass species. For saltmarsh plants, the rigid shoots allow lateral expansion of their populations via increased sedimentation. For seagrasses, the dense and flexible shoots typical of temperate intertidal populations provide efficient protection from erosive forces, while at the same time helping to avoid stresses, such as drag forces and high sedimentation rates.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Journal publication date2008

ID: 56136