Seagrass litter decomposition: an additional nutrient source to shallow coastal waters

  • M. H. K. Prasad
  • D. Ganguly
  • A. Paneerselvam
  • R. Ramesh
  • R. PurvajaEmail author


Seagrass ecosystems are vital for its regulatory services yet, highly threatened by degradation due to human pressures. Decomposition of two tropical seagrass species (Cymodocea serrulata and Cymodocea rotundata) was studied and compared, to understand their potential in generating additional nutrients to coastal waters. Release of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus during the decomposition process of seagrass wracks was estimated in bacteria-active (non-poisoned) and bacteria-inhibited (poisoned) conditions from shore-washed fresh seagrass, sampled from Palk Bay, India. Incubation experiments for 25 days indicated a near three times higher concentration of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in bacteria-inhibited flasks compared to bacteria-active conditions for both species. The maximum leaching rates of DOC, TDN and TDP were found to be 294, 65.1 and 11.2 μM/g dry wt/day, respectively. Further, higher release of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) (> 1.3 times) was documented from the bacteria-active flask, highlighting the significance of microbial process in generating bio-available nutrients from decaying seagrass. Faster decomposition (0.014 ± 0.004 day−1) in the initial stages (up to 8 days) compared to the later stages (0.005 ± 0.001 day−1) indicated a rapid loss of biomass carbon during the initial leaching process and its relative importance in the decomposition pathway. The decomposition rate is best described by a single-stage exponential decay model with a half-life of 41 days. It is estimated that the total seagrass litter available along the Palk Bay coast is about ~ 0.3 Gg with high potential of additional nitrogen (0.9 ± 0.5 Mg) and phosphorus (0.3 ± 0.1 Mg) supply to the adjacent coastal waters.


Seagrass wracks Nutrient leaching Decay rates Palk Bay 



This study was undertaken as part of the in-house research study of NCSCM on “BECoCE” studies (IR12008).

Funding information

This study was financially and technically supported by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, and the World Bank under the India ICZM Project.


  1. Barreiro, F., Gómez, M., Lastra, M., López, J., & de la Huz, R. (2011). Annual cycle of wrack supply to sandy beaches: effect of the physical environment. MEPS, 433, 65–74. Scholar
  2. Barron, C., Apostolaki, E. T., & Duarte, C. M. (2014). Dissolved organic carbon fluxes by seagrass meadows and macroalgal beds. Frontiers in Marine Science.
  3. Bar-Zeev, E., Berman-Frank, I., Cirshevitz, O., & Berman, T. (2012). Revised paradigm of aquatic biofilm formation facilitated by microgel transparent exopolymer particles. PNAS, 109, 9119–9124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bharathi, K., Subhashini, P., Raja, S., Ranith, R., Vanitha, K., & Thangaradjou, T. (2015). Spatial variability in distribution of seagrasses along the Tamilnadu coast. International Journal of Current Research, 6, 8997–9005.Google Scholar
  5. Davis, S. E., III, Corronado-Molina, C., Childers, D. L., & Day, J. W., Jr. (2003). Temporally dependent C, N, and P dynamics associated with the decay of Rhizophora mangle L. leaf litter in oligotrophic mangrove wetlands of the Southern Everglades. Aquatic Botany, 75, 199–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. de Boer, W. F. (2000). Biomass dynamics of seagrasses and the role of mangrove and seagrass vegetation as different nutrient sources for an intertidal ecosystem in Mozambique. Aquatic Botany, 66, 225–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Delgado, M., Carlos, M., Cintra-Buenrostro, E., & Fierro-Cabo, A. (2017). Decomposition and nitrogen dynamics of turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) in a subtropical estuarine system. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 1–15.Google Scholar
  8. Duarte, C. M. (1990). Seagrass nutrient content. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 6, 201–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Duarte, C. M., Middelburg, J. J., & Caraco, N. (2005). Major role of marine vegetation on the oceanic carbon cycle. Biogeosciences, 2, 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duarte, C. M., Losada, I. J., Hendriks, I. E., Mazarrasa, I., & Marbà, N. (2013). The role of coastal plant communities for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 3, 961–968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Erftemeijer, P. L. A., & Lewis, R. R. R. (2006). Environmental impacts of dredging on seagrasses: A review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52, 1553–1572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ferguson, A. J. P., Gruber, R., Potts, J., Wright, A., Welsh, D. T., & Scanes, P. (2017). Oxygen and carbon metabolism of Zostera muelleri across a depth gradient – Implications for resilience and blue carbon. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 187, 216–230. Scholar
  13. Fourqurean, J. W., & Schrlau, J. E. (2003). Changes in nutrient content and stable isotope ratios of C and N during decomposition of seagrasses and mangrove leaves along a nutrient availability gradient in Florida bay, USA. Chemistry and Ecology, 19, 373–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fourqurean, J. W., Zieman, J. C., & Powell, G. V. N. (1992). Phosphorus limitation of primary production in Florida bay: Evidence from the C:N:P ratios of the dominant seagrass Thalassia testudinum. Limnology and Oceanography, 37, 162–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ganguly, D., Singh, G., Ramachandran, P., Selvam, A. P., Banerjee, K., & Ramachandran, R. (2017). Seagrass metabolism and carbon dynamics in a tropical coastal embayment. Ambio, 46, 667–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Geevarghese, G. A., Akhil, B., Magesh, G., Krishnan, P., Purvaja, R., & Ramesh, R. (2017). A comprehensive geospatial assessment of seagrass distribution in India. Ocean and Coastal Management, 159, 16–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ghosh, S., & Leff, L. G. (2013). Impacts of labile organic carbon concentration on organic and inorganic nitrogen utilization by a stream biofilm bacterial community. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 79, 7130–7141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Godshalk, G. L., & Wetzel, R. G. (1978). Decomposition of aquatic angiosperms. III. Zostera marina L. and a conceptual model of decomposition. Aquatic Botany, 5, 329–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gokulakrishnan, R., & Ravikumar, S. (2016). Assessment of seagrass biomass and coastal landforms along Palk Strait. The Indian Journal of GeoMarine Sciences, 45, 1035–1041.Google Scholar
  20. González-Domínguez, B., Studer, M. S., Hagedorm, F., Niklaus, P. A., & Abiven, S. (2017). Leaching of soils during laboratory incubations does not affect soil organic carbon mineralisation but solubilisation. PLoS One, 12174–12725.Google Scholar
  21. Govindasamy, C., & Arulpriya, M. (2011). Seasonal variation in seagrass biomass on northern Palk Bay, India. Biodiversity, 12, 223–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grasshoff, K., Kremlimg, K., & Ehrhardt, M. (1999). Analysis by electrochemical methods; In: Methods of seawater analysis (pp. 159–226). Weinheim: Wiley VCH.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holmer, M., & Olsen, A. B. (2002). Role of decomposition of mangrove and seagrass detritus in sediment carbon and nitrogen cycling in a tropical mangrove forest. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 230, 87–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Inamura, G. J., Thompson, R. S., Boehm, A. B., & Jay, J. A. (2011). Wrack promotes the persistence of fecal indicator bacteria in marine sands and seawater. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 77, 40–49.Google Scholar
  25. Jagtap, T. G., Komarpant, D. S., & Rodrigues, R. S. (2003). Status of seagrass ecosystems of India. Wetlands, 23, 161–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jordà, G., Marbà, N., & Duarte, C. M. (2012). Mediterranean seagrass vulnerable to regional climate warming. Nature Climate Change, 2, 821–824.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jordan, T. E., Whigham, D. F., & Correllthe, D. L. (1989). Role of litter in nutrient cycling in a brackish tidal marsh ecological Society of America. Ecology, 70, 1906–1915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kannan, L., Thangaradjou, T., & Anantharaman, P. (1999). Status of seagrasses of India. Seaweed Research and Utilization, 21, 25–33.Google Scholar
  29. Kennedy, H., Beggins, J., Duarte, C. M., Fourqurean, J. W., Holmer, M., Marba, N., & Middelburg, J. J. (2010). Seagrass sediments as a global carbon sink: Isotopic constraints. Global Biogeochem Cycles, 24, 38–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kumaraguru, A. K., Jayakumar, K., & Ramakritinan, C. M. (2003). Coral bleaching in the Palk Bay, southeast coast of India. Current Science, 85, 1787–1792.Google Scholar
  31. Loría-Naranjo, M., Sibaja-Cordero, J. A., & Cortés, J. (2018). Mangrove leaf litter decomposition in a seasonal tropical environment. Journal of Coastal Research.
  32. Lu, X. Q., Maie, N., Hanna, J. V., Childers, D., & Jaffé, R. (2003). Molecular characterization of dissolved organic matter in freshwater wetlands of the Florida Everglades. Water Research, 37, 2599–2606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Macreadie, P. I., Trevathan-Tackett, S. M., Baldock, J. A., & Kelleway, J. J. (2017). Converting beach-cast seagrass wrack into biochar: A climate-friendly solution to a coastal problem. Science of the Total Environment, 574, 90–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Maie, M., Jaffe, R., Miyoshi, T., & Childers, D. L. (2006). Quantitative and qualitative aspects of dissolved organic carbon leached from senescent plants in an oligotrophic wetland. Biogeochemistry, 78, 285–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Manikandan, S., Ganesapandian, S., Singh, M., & Kumaraguru, A. K. (2011). Seagrass diversity and associated Flora and Fauna in the coral reef ecosystem of the Gulf of Mannar, Southeast Coast of India. Research Journal of Environmental and Earth Sciences, 3, 321–326.Google Scholar
  36. Manikandan, B., Ravindran, J., Shrinivaasu, S., Marimuthu, N., & Paramasivam, K. (2014). Community structure and coral status across reef fishing intensity gradients in Palk Bay, southeast coast of India. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 186, 5989–6002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Marbà, N., Dıaz-Almela, E., & Duarte, C. M. (2014). Mediterranean seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) loss between 1842 and 2009. Biological Conservation, 176, 183–190. Google Scholar
  38. Mastný, J., Kaštovská, E., Bárta, J., Chroňáková, A., Borovec, J., Šantrůčková, H., Urbanová, Z., Edwards, R. K., & Picek, T. (2018). Quality of DOC produced during litter decomposition of peatland plant dominants. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 121, 221–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McGuire, K. L., & Treseder, K. K. (2010). Microbial communities and their relevance for ecosystem models: decomposition as a case study. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 42, 529–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Moran, P. A., & Hodson, R. (1989). Bacterial secondary producbon on vascular plant detritus: relationships to detntus composition and degradation rate. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 55, 2178–2189.Google Scholar
  41. Nelson, J. L., & Zavaleta, E. S. (2012). Salt marsh as a coastal filter for the oceans: Changes in function with experimental increases in nitrogen loading and sea-level rise. PLoS One, 7, 1–14.Google Scholar
  42. Ochieng, C. A., & Erftemeijer, P. L. A. (1999). Accumulation of seagrass beach cast along the Kenyan coast: A quantitative assessment. Aquatic Botany, 65, 221–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Oldham, C., Lavery, P., McMahon, K., Pattiaratchi, C., & Chiffings, T. (2010). Seagrass wrack dynamics in Geographe Bay, Western Australia. Report to Department of Transport, Western Australian and Shire of Bussleton.Google Scholar
  44. Opsahl, S., & Benner, R. (1993). Decomposition of senescent blades of the seagrass Halodule wrightii in a subtropical lagoon. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 94, 191–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Peduzzi, P., & Herndl, G. J. (1991). Decomposition and significance of seagrass leaf litter (Cymodocea nodosa) for microbial food web in coastal waters (gulf of Trieste, northern Adriatic Sea). Marine Ecology Progress Series, 71, 163–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Purvaja, R., Robin, R. S., Ganguly, D., Hariharan, G., Singh, G., Raghuraman, R., & Ramesh, R. (2018). Seagrass meadows as proxy for assessment of ecosystem health. Ocean and Coastal Management, 159, 34–45. Scholar
  47. Rinkes, Z. L., Sinsabaugh, R. L., Moorhead Dary, L., Grandy, A. S., & Weintraub, M. N. (2013). Field and lab conditions alter microbial enzyme and biomass dynamics driving decomposition of the same leaf litter. Frontiers in Microbiology, 260.Google Scholar
  48. Thangaradjou, T., Sridhar, R., Senthilkumar, S., & Kannan, L. (2008). Seagrass resources assessment in the Mandapam coast of the Gulf of Mannar biosphere reserve, India. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research, 6, 139–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Valiela, L., Teal, J. M., Allen, S. D., Van Etten, R., Goehringer, D., & Volkmann, S. (1985). Decomposition in salt marsh ecosystems: The phases and major factors affecting disappearance of above-ground organic matter. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 89, 29–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Viaroli, P., Bartoli, M., Giordani, G., Naldi, M., Orfanidis, S., & Zaldivar, J. M. (2008). Community shifts, alternative stable states, biogeochemical controls and feedbacks in eutrophic coastal lagoons: A brief overview. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 18, S105–S117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wang, X. C., Litz, L., Chen, R. F., Huang, W., Feng, P., & Altabet, M. A. (2007). Release of dissolved organic matter during oxic and anoxic decomposition of salt marsh cordgrass. Marine Chemistry, 105, 309–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wang, X., Chen, R. F., Cable, J. E., & Cherrier, J. (2014). Leaching and microbial degradation of dissolved organic matter from salt marsh plants and seagrasses. Aquatic Sciences, 76, 595–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Waycott, M., Duarte, C. M., Carruthers, T., Orth, R., Dennison, W. C., Olyarnik, S., Calladine, A., Fourqurean, J., Heck, K., Hughes, R., Kendrick, G., Kenworthy, W., Short, F., & Williams, S. (2009). Accelerating loss of seagrasses across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106, 12377–12381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. White, D. S., & Howes, B. L. (1994). Long-term 15N-nitrogen retention in the vegetated sediments of a New England salt marsh. Limnology and Oceanography, 39, 1878–1892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zhou, L. Y., Zhou, X. H., Shao, J. J. , Nie, Y. Y., He, Y. H., Jiang, L. L., Wu, Z. T., & Bai, S. H. (2016). Interactive effects of global change factors on soil respiration and its components: a meta-analysis. Global Change Biology.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of IndiaAnna University CampusChennaiIndia

Personalised recommendations