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Title: Status and Trajectories of Soft-Bottom Benthic Communities of the South Florida Seascape Revealed by 25 Years of Seagrass and Water Quality Monitoring
Although seagrass ecosystems are valued for the services they provide, anthropogenic impacts have led to global declines in seagrass area. South Florida harbors one of the most extensive and iconic seagrass landscapes in the world, but historic seagrass losses appeared to threaten their integrity. The establishment of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) in 1995 created a benthic community and water quality monitoring network to aid management efforts. With this study, we report on the status and trajectories of benthic communities in South Florida using 25 years of monitoring data. Overall, most of our permanent monitoring sites maintained stable benthic communities over the period of observation. However, for areas that did experience decline, we identified mechanisms for loss of the climax seagrass Thalassia testudinum in the FKNMS with no or only partial recovery over decadal timescales. We observed a shift towards fast-growing Halodule wrightii meadows at anthropogenically nutrient-enriched nearshore sites along the Florida Keys. In addition, we describe almost complete loss of seagrass meadows at some exposed, back-reef sites offshore from the Florida Keys resulting from physical disturbance by major hurricanes. This study demonstrates the utility of long-term monitoring programs for the identification of benthic community trajectories and their putative drivers on the seascape scale, offering valuable lessons for the design of future seagrass monitoring programs.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2025954 1832229
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Estuaries and Coasts
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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