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Title: Effects of seagrass restoration on coastal fish abundance and diversity
Restoration is accelerating to reverse global declines of key habitats and recover lost ecosystem functions, particularly in coastal ecosystems. However, there is high uncertainty about the long-term capacity of restored ecosystems to provide habitat and increase biodiversity and the degree to which these ecosystem services are mediated by spatial and temporal environmental variability. We addressed these gaps by sampling fishes biannually for 5–7 years (2012–2018) at 16 sites inside and outside a rapidly expanding restored seagrass meadow in coastal Virginia (USA). Despite substantial among-year variation in abun-dance and species composition, seine catches in restored seagrass beds were consistently larger (6.4 times more fish, p<0.001) and more speciose (2.6 times greater species richness, p<0.001; 3.1 times greater Hill–Shannon diversity, p=0.03) than seine catches in adjacent unvegetated areas. Catches were particularly larger during summer than autumn(p<0.01). Structural equation modeling revealed that depth and water residence time interacted to control seagrass presence, leading to higher fish abundance and richness in shallow, well-flushed areas that supported seagrass. Together, our results indicate that seagrass restoration yields large and consistent benefits for many coastal fishes, but that restoration and its benefits are sensitive to the dynamic seascapes in which restoration is conducted. Consideration of how seascape-scale environmental variability affects the success of habitat restoration and subsequent ecosystem function will improve restoration outcomes and the provisioning of ecosystem services.  more » « less
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Conservation Biology
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Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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