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  1. Abstract

    To inform water quality monitoring techniques and modeling at coastal research sites, this study investigated seasonality and trends in coastal lagoons on the eastern shore of Virginia, USA. Seasonality was quantified with harmonic analysis of low-frequency time-series, approximately 30 years of quarterly sampled data at thirteen mainland, lagoon, and ocean inlet sites, along with 4–6 years of high-frequency, 15-min resolution sonde data at two mainland sites. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, and apparent oxygen utilization (AOU) seasonality were dominated by annual harmonics, while salinity and chlorophyll-aexhibited mixed annual and semi-annual harmonics. Mainland sites had larger seasonal amplitudes and higher peak summer values for temperature, chlorophyll-aand AOU, likely from longer water residence times, shallower waters, and proximity to marshes and uplands. Based on the statistical subsampling of high-frequency data, one to several decades of low-frequency data (at quarterly sampling) were needed to quantify the climatological seasonal cycle within specified confidence intervals. Statistically significant decadal warming and increasing chlorophyll-aconcentrations were found at a sub-set of mainland sites, with no distinct geographic patterns for other water quality trends. The analysis highlighted challenges in detecting long-term trends in coastal water quality at sites sampled at low frequency with large seasonal and interannual variability.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 29, 2025
  2. Abstract

    As part of a long-term study on the effects of nitrogen (N) loading in a shallow temperate lagoon, we measured rates of N2fixation associated with seagrass (Zostera marina) epiphytes during the summer from 2005 to 2019, at two sites along a gradient from where high N groundwater enters the system (denoted SH) to a more well-flushed outer harbor (OH). The data presented here are the first such long-term N2fixation estimates for any seagrass system and one of the very few reported for the phyllosphere in a temperate system. Mean daily N2fixation was estimated from light and dark measurements using the acetylene reduction assay intercalibrated using both incorporation of15N2into biomass and a novel application of the N2:Ar method. Surprisingly, despite a large inorganic N input from a N-contaminated groundwater plume, epiphytic N2fixation rates were moderately to very high for a seagrass system (OH site 14-year mean of 0.94 mmol N m−2 d−1), with the highest rates (2.6 mmol N m−2 d−1) measured at the more N-loaded eutrophic site (SH) where dissolved inorganic N was higher and soluble reactive phosphorus was lower than in the better-flushed OH. Over 95% of the total N2fixation measured was in the light, suggesting the importance of cyanobacteria in the epiphyte assemblages. We observed large inter-annual variation both within and across the two study sites (range from 0.1 to 2.6 mmol N fixed m−2d−1), which we suggest is in part related to climatic variation. We estimate that input from phyllosphere N2fixation over the study period contributes on average an additional 20% to the total daily N load per area within the seagrass meadow.

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  3. 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. 
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  4. abstract Coastal ecosystems play a disproportionately large role in society, and climate change is altering their ecological structure and function, as well as their highly valued goods and services. In the present article, we review the results from decade-scale research on coastal ecosystems shaped by foundation species (e.g., coral reefs, kelp forests, coastal marshes, seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, barrier islands) to show how climate change is altering their ecological attributes and services. We demonstrate the value of site-based, long-term studies for quantifying the resilience of coastal systems to climate forcing, identifying thresholds that cause shifts in ecological state, and investigating the capacity of coastal ecosystems to adapt to climate change and the biological mechanisms that underlie it. We draw extensively from research conducted at coastal ecosystems studied by the US Long Term Ecological Research Network, where long-term, spatially extensive observational data are coupled with shorter-term mechanistic studies to understand the ecological consequences of climate change. 
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  5. Abstract

    Seagrass meadows are important carbon sinks in the global coastal carbon cycle yet are also among the most rapidly declining marine habitats. Their ability to sequester carbon depends on flow–sediment–vegetation interactions that facilitate net deposition, as well as high rates of primary production. However, the effects of seasonal and episodic variations in seagrass density on net sediment and carbon accumulation have not been well quantified. Understanding these dynamics provides insight into how carbon accumulation in seagrass meadows responds to disturbance events and climate change. Here, we apply a spatially resolved sediment transport model that includes coupling of seagrass effects on flow, waves, and sediment resuspension in a seagrass meadow to quantify seasonal rates of sediment and carbon accumulation in the meadow. Our results show that organic carbon accumulation rates were largely determined by sediment accumulation and that they both changed non‐linearly as a function of seagrass shoot density. While seagrass meadows effectively trapped sediment at meadow edges during spring–summer growth seasons, during winter senescence low‐density meadows (< 160 shoots m−2) were erosional with rates sensitive to density. Small variations in winter densities resulted in large changes in annual sediment and carbon accumulation in the meadow; meadow‐scale (hundreds of square meters) summer seagrass dieback due to marine heatwaves can result in annual erosion and carbon loss. Our findings highlight the strong temporal and spatial variability in sediment accumulation within seagrass meadows and the implications for annual sediment carbon burial rates and the resilience of seagrass carbon stocks under future climate change.

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    Worldwide, seagrass meadows accumulate significant stocks of organic carbon (C), known as “blue” carbon, which can remain buried for decades to centuries. However, when seagrass meadows are disturbed, these C stocks may be remineralized, leading to significant CO 2 emissions. Increasing ocean temperatures, and increasing frequency and severity of heat waves, threaten seagrass meadows and their sediment blue C. To date, no study has directly measured the impact of seagrass declines from high temperatures on sediment C stocks. Here, we use a long-term record of sediment C stocks from a 7-km 2 , restored eelgrass ( Zostera marina ) meadow to show that seagrass dieback following a single marine heat wave (MHW) led to significant losses of sediment C. Patterns of sediment C loss and re-accumulation lagged patterns of seagrass recovery. Sediment C losses were concentrated within the central area of the meadow, where sites experienced extreme shoot density declines of 90% during the MHW and net losses of 20% of sediment C over the following 3 years. However, this effect was not uniform; outer meadow sites showed little evidence of shoot declines during the MHW and had net increases of 60% of sediment C over the following 3 years. Overall, sites with higher seagrass recovery maintained 1.7x as much C compared to sites with lower recovery. Our study demonstrates that while seagrass blue C is vulnerable to MHWs, localization of seagrass loss can prevent meadow-wide C losses. Long-term (decadal and beyond) stability of seagrass blue C depends on seagrass resilience to short-term disturbance events. 
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  8. Abstract

    Macroalgae structure coastal ecosystems affecting metabolism, nutrient dynamics, and food webs. Spatially explicit prediction of macroalgal abundance is critical for understanding coastal ecosystems and trajectories. However, models of macroalgal distribution tend to be mechanistic and generalize poorly, or biogeographic and too coarse to use over spatial scales most appropriate to ecosystem research and management (1–100 km2). Our objective was to develop spatial distribution models for benthic macroalgae in soft‐sediment environments. We compared macroalgal abundance quantified as percent cover, with environmental drivers on 1 ha intertidal flats in a > 900 km2lagoon system along the Atlantic Coast of Virginia, U.S.A. Physical drivers of macroalgae (e.g., depth‐mediated light availability, exposure to waves) are related to bed morphology. We developed a novel topographic index (τ) to determine whether bed morphology predicts macroalgal abundance. This topographic index described variation in elevation occurring over spatial scales relevant to macroalgae, ranging from smooth to hummocky (τ= 0.01–1.07). Models testedτalong with mean elevation, fetch, and water residence time as predictors of macroalgal abundance.τ, and the interaction with water residence time, were most strongly related to macroalgal abundance. Hummocky flats accumulated less macroalgae than smoother flats, but exceptions occurred with short residence times. Model error (root mean square error) was low, varying between 8% and 18% across models. These models, based on readily measured physical features, are a useful approach for assessing macroalgal abundance in relation to shoreline hardening, species invasions, sea‐level rise, and changing sedimentation affecting coastal ecosystems.

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  9. Abstract

    Seagrass meadows are valued for their ecosystem services, including their role in mitigating anthropogenic CO2emissions through ‘blue carbon’ sequestration and storage. This study quantifies the dynamics of whole ecosystem metabolism on daily to interannual timescales for an eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadow using in situ benthic O2flux measurements by aquatic eddy covariance over a period of 11 yr. The measurements were part of the Virginia Coast Reserve Long‐Term Ecological Research study, and covered a relatively stable period of seagrass ecosystem metabolism 6–13 yr after restoration by seeding (2007–2014), a die‐off event likely related to persistently high temperatures during peak growing season in 2015, and a partial recovery from 2016 to 2018. This unique sequence provides an unprecedented opportunity to study seagrass resilience to temperature stress. With this extensive data set covering 115 full diel cycles, we constructed an average annual oxygen budget that indicated the meadow was in metabolic balance when averaged over the entire period, with gross primary production and respiration equal to 95 and −94 mmol O2m−2d−1, respectively. On an interannual scale, there was a shift in trophic status from balanced to net heterotrophy during the die‐off event in 2015, then to net autotrophy as the meadow recovered. The highly dynamic and variable nature of seagrass metabolism captured by our aquatic eddy covariance data emphasizes the importance of using frequent measurements throughout the year to correctly estimate trophic status of seagrass meadows.

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