Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 755–764 | Cite as

Short-Term Temperature Stress Results in Seagrass Community Shift in a Temperate Estuary

  • Erin C. ShieldsEmail author
  • Dave Parrish
  • Kenneth Moore


Seagrass meadows are becoming increasingly stressed throughout the world, due to a variety of factors including anthropogenic nutrient and sediment loading, and extreme climatic events. Here we explore drivers of spatial and temporal community change over a 7-year period in the York River, Chesapeake Bay, VA. Historically, declines here in the dominant species, Zostera marina, have been related to a combination of short-term summertime heat stress events and chronically reduced water clarity. We quantified two temperature-driven Z. marina die-off events that resulted in a community switch from a slower growing, large climax species (Z. marina) to a faster growing, small pioneer species (Ruppia maritima) the following summer. Of the water quality variables studied here (water temperature, turbidity, and chlorophyll), water temperature was the only significant factor related to the monthly change in Z. marina cover. Our model did not find any significant drivers of change for R. maritima, though it appears to be more related to the abundance of Z. marina rather than changes to water quality. During die-off years, R. maritima is able to temporarily replace some of the lost Z. marina abundance by expanding its coverage in some areas of the bed, retreating again once Z. marina begins to recover. The extent of this replacement in terms of habitat quality is not well known and is an important area for future research, not just for seagrass beds, but for vegetated communities worldwide as their species composition is altered in response to climate change.


Seagrass Zostera marina Ruppia maritima Temperature Climate 



We thank the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia for financial support. We especially thank Betty Neikirk, Joy Baber, Alynda Miller, Lisa Ott, Hank Brooks, Cody Lapnow, and Steve Snyder for their tireless efforts in the water quality lab and with field logistics and support, and everyone else at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia who has helped over the years with this research. Detailed comments from two anonymous reviewers are greatly appreciated. This paper is Contribution No. 3802 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceWilliam & MaryGloucester PointUSA

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