Marine Biology

, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 219–232 | Cite as

Spatial and temporal variation in the elemental and stable isotopic content of the seagrasses Posidonia oceanica and Cymodocea nodosa from the Illes Balears, Spain

  • J. W. FourqureanEmail author
  • N. Marbà
  • C. M. Duarte
  • E. Diaz-Almela
  • S. Ruiz-Halpern
Research Article


Morphology, elemental content and isotopic composition of leaves of the seagrasses Posidonia oceanica and Cymodocea nodosa were highly variable across the Illes Balears, a Spanish archipelago in the western Mediterranean, and varied seasonally at one site in the study area. The data presented in this paper generally expand the reported ranges of nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and arsenic content and δ13C and δ15N for these species. Nitrogen and phosphorus content of P. oceanica leaves also showed significant seasonal variability; on an annual basis, P. oceanica leaves averaged 1.55% N and 0.14% P at this monitoring site. Both N and P were more concentrated in the leaves in winter than in summer, with winter maxima of 1.76% N and 0.17% P and summer minima of 1.34% N and 0.11% P. There was no significant annual pattern observed in the δ13C of P. oceanica leaves, but there was a repeated 0.6‰ seasonal fluctuation in δ15N. Mean annual δ15N was 4.0‰; δ15N was lowest in May and it increased through the summer and autumn to a maximum in November. Over the geographic range of our study area, there were interspecific differences in the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus content of the two species. Posidonia oceanica N:P ratios were distributed around the critical value of 30:1 while the ratios for C. nodosa were lower than this value, suggesting P. oceanica we collected was not consistently limited by N or P while C. nodosa tended toward nitrogen limitation. Nutrient content was significantly correlated to morphological indicators of plant vigor. Fe content of P. oceanica leaves varied by a factor of 5×, with a minimum of 31.1 μg g−1 and a maximum of 167.7 μg g−1. Arsenic was present in much lower tissue concentrations than Fe, but the As concentrations were more variable; the maximum concentration of 1.60 μg g−1 was eight times as high as the minimum of 0.20 μg g−1. There were interspecific differences in δ13C of the two species; C. nodosa was consistently more enriched (δ13C = −7.8 ± 1.7‰) than P. oceanica (−13.2 ± 1.2‰). The δ13C of both species decreased significantly with increasing water depth. Depth related and regional variability in the δ13C and δ15N of both species were marked, suggesting that caution needs to be exercised when applying stable isotopes in food web analyses.


Phosphorus Content Light Availability Leaf Length Carbonate Sediment Interspecific Difference 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was supported by the project M&M’s of the European Commission (contract #EVK3-CT-2000-00044) and grant SAB2000-0082 from the Secretaría de Estado de Educación y Universidades, Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Spain were instrumental in the field sampling effort. Yong Cai at FIU provided instruments and assistance for the Fe and As analyses. The Stable Isotope Lab at FIU analyzed the samples for stable isotopic ratios. Rocío Santiago, Regino Martínez, Susie Escorcia, Meredith Ferdie and Leanne Rutten helped with field sampling and sample analysis. This is contribution #335 of the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University. Collection of samples and laboratory analyses were conducted in accordance with the laws of Spain and the United States.


  1. Abal EG, Loneragan N, Bowen P, Perry CJ, Udy JW, Dennison WC (1994) Physiological and morphological responses of the seagrass Zostera capricorni Ascher. to light intensity. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 178:113–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alcoverro T, Duarte CM, Romero J (1995) Annual growth dynamics of Posidonia oceanica: contribution of large-scale versus local factors to seasonality. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 120:203–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atkinson MJ, Smith SV (1983) C:N:P ratios of benthic marine plants. Limnol Oceanogr 28:568–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bethoux JP, Copin-Montegut G (1986) Biological fixation of atmospheric nitrogen in the Mediterranean Sea. Limnol Oceanogr 31:1353-1358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cai Y, Georgiadis M, Fourqurean JW (2000) Determination of arsenic in seagrass using inductively coupled mass spectrometry. Spectrochimica Acta Part B 55:1411–1422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cancemi G, De Falco G, Pergent G (2003) Effects of organic matter input from a fish farming facility on a Posidonia oceanica meadow. Estuarine Coast Shelf Sci 56:961–968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chambers RM, Fourqurean JW, Macko SA, Hoppenot R (2001) Biogeochemical effects of iron availability on primary producers in a shallow marine carbonate environment. Limnol Oceanogr 46:1278–1286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cooper LW, DeNiro MJ (1989) Stable carbon isotope variability in the seagrass Posidonia oceanica: evidence for light intensity effects. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 50:225–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Delgado O (1986) Contiendo de fósforo de los tejidos de fanerógamas marinas del Mediterráneo occidental y su relación con la dinámica de cada especie. Oceanol Aquat 8:139–151Google Scholar
  10. Diaz-Almela E, Marbà N, Álvarez E, Balestri E, Ruiz-Fernández JM, Duarte CM (2006) Patterns of seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) flowering in the Western Mediterranean. Mar Biol 148(4):723-742CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Duarte CM (1990) Seagrass nutrient content. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 67:201–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Duarte CM, Merino M, Gallegos M (1995) Evidence of iron deficiency in seagrasses growing above carbonate sediments. Limnol Oceanogr 40:1153–1158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ferdie M, Fourqurean JW (2004) Responses of seagrass communities to fertilization along a gradient of relative availability of nitrogen and phosphorus in a carbonate environment. Limnol Oceanogr 49:2082–2094CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fourqurean JW, Cai Y (2001) Arsenic and phosphorus in seagrass leaves from the Gulf of Mexico. Aquat Bot 71:247–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fourqurean JW, Zieman JC, Powell GVN (1992) Phosphorus limitation of primary production in Florida Bay: evidence from the C:N:P ratios of the dominant seagrass Thalassia testudinum. Limnol Oceanogr 37:162–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fourqurean JW, Moore TO, Fry B, Hollibaugh JT (1997) Spatial and temporal variation in C:N:P ratios, δ15N, and δ13C of eelgrass Zostera marina as indicators of ecosystem processes, Tomales Bay, California, USA. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 157:147–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fourqurean JW, Willsie AW, Rose CD, Rutten LM (2001) Spatial and temporal pattern in seagrass community composition and productivity in south Florida. Mar Biol 138:341–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fourqurean JW, Escorcia SP, Anderson WT, Zieman JC (2005) Spatial and seasonal variability in elemental content, δ13C, and δ15N of Thalassia testudinum from south Florida and its implications for ecosystem studies. Estuaries 28:447–461CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fry B, Sherr EB (1984) 13C measurements as indicators of carbon flow in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Contrib Mar Sci 27:13–47Google Scholar
  20. Gobert S, Lejeune P, Lepoint G, Bouquegneau J-M (2005) C, N, P concentrations and requirements of flowering Posidonia oceanica shoots. Hydrobiologia 533:253–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goecker ME, Heck KL, Valentine JF (2005) Effects of nitrogen concentrations in turtlegrass Thalassia testudinum on consumption by the bucktooth parrotfish Sparisoma radians. Mar Ecol Prog Sers 286:239–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Greve TM, Borum J, Pedersen O (2003) Meristematic oxygen variability in eelgrass (Zostera marina). Limnol Oceanogr 48(1):210-216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grice AM, Loneragan NR, Dennison WC (1996) Light intensity and the interactions between physiology, morphology and stable isotope ratios in five species of seagrass. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 195:91–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Guidetti P, Lorenti M, Buia MC, Mazzella L (2002) Temporal dynamics and biomass partitioning in three adriatic seagrass species: Posidonia oceanica, Cymodocea nodosa, Zostera marina. PSZNI Mar Ecol 23:51–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Holmer M, Duarte CM, Marbà N (2003a) Sulfur cycling and seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) status in carbonate sediments. Biogeochemistry 66:223–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Holmer M, Pérez M, Duarte CM (2003b) Benthic primary producers—a neglected environmental problem in Mediterranean maricultures? Mar Poll Bull 46:1372-1376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Invers O, Pérez M, Romero J (1999) Bicarbonate utilization in seagrass photosynthesis: role of carbonic anhydrase in Posidonia oceanica (L.) Delile and Cymodocea nodosa (Ucria) Ascherson. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 235:125–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Invers O, Kraemer GP, Pérez M, Romero J (2004) Effects of nitrogen addition on nitrogen metabolism and carbon reserves in the temperate seagrass Posidonia oceanica. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 303:97–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. de Kanel J, Morse JW (1978) The chemistry of orthophosphate uptake from seawater onto calcite and aragonite. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 42:1335–1340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lepoint G, Millet S, Dauby P, Gobert S, Bouquegneau J-M (2002) Annual nitrogen budget of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica as determined by in situ uptake experiments. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 237:87–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lepoint G, Dauby P, Fontaine M, Bouquegneau J-M, Gobert S (2003) Carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica: depth-related variations. Bot Mar 46:555–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Marbà N, Cebrián J, Enríquez S, Duarte CM (1996) Growth patterns of Western Mediterranean seagrasses: species-specific responses to seasonal forcing. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 133:203–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Marbà N, Duarte CM, Holmer M, Martínez R, Basterretxea G, Orfila A, Jordi A, Tintoré J (2002) Assessing the effectiveness of protection on Posidonia oceanica populations in the Cabrera National Park (Spain). Environ Conserv 29:509-518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Minagawa M, Wada E (1984) Stepwise enrichment of 15N along food chains: further evidence and the relation between δ15N and animal age. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 48:1135–1140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Papadimitriou S, Kennedy H, Kennedy DP, Borum J (2005) Seasonal and spatial variation in the organic carbon and nitrogen concentration and their stable isotopic composition in Zostera marina (Denmark). Limnol Oceanogr 50:1084–1095CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pasqualini V, Pergent-Martini C, Clabaut P, Pergent G (1998) Mapping of Posidonia oceanica using aerial photographs and side scan sonar: application off the island of Corsica (France). Estuarine Coast Shelf Sci 47:359-367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pirc H, Wollenwebber B (1988) Seasonal changes in nitrogen, free amino acids, and C/N ratio in Mediterranean seagrasses. PSZNI Mar Ecol 9:167–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Short FT (1987) Effects of sediment nutrients on seagrasses: literature review and mesocosm experiment. Aquat Bot 27:41–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Thayer GW, Bjorndal KA, Ogden JC, Williams SL, Zieman JC (1984a) Role of larger herbivores in seagrass communities. Estuaries 7:351–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Thayer GW, Kenworthy WJ, Fonseca MS (1984b) The ecology of eelgrass meadows of the Atlantic coast: a community profile. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 84/02, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  41. Vizzini S, Mazzola A (2003) Seasonal variations in the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (13C/12C and 15N/14N) of primary producers and consumers in a western Mediterranean coastal lagoon. Mar Biol 142:1009–1018CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Vizzini S, Sarà G, Mateo MA, Mazzola A (2003) δ13C and δ15N variability in Posidonia oceanica associated with seasonality and plant fraction. Aquat Bot 76:195–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. W. Fourqurean
    • 1
    Email author
  • N. Marbà
    • 2
  • C. M. Duarte
    • 2
  • E. Diaz-Almela
    • 2
  • S. Ruiz-Halpern
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences and Southeast Environmental Research CenterFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB), Instituto Mediterráneo de Estudios AvanzadosEsporlesSpain

Personalised recommendations