Effect of depth gradient and temperature on Zostera marina vegetative and reproductive phenology in the first year of the 1997–1998 El Niño

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Alf Enrique Meling-López
Silvia Emilia Ibarra-Obando
Horacio de la Cueva
Pedro Ortega-Romero
Adriana Leticia Navarro-Verdugo

Abstract

Does Zostera marina exhibit phenotypic plasticity, maximizing fitness in traits responding to environmental factors, i.e., depth and temperature? We compared the vegetative and sexual phenology and reproductive effort of Z. marina by analyzing vegetative and reproductive shoot density, biomass, and reproductive stages to determine structural features of vegetative and reproductive shoots from subtidal and intertidal environments in San Quintín Bay, Baja California, a year before and after the 1997–1998 El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). We found significant differences in vegetative and reproductive biomass between intertidal and subtidal environments driven by temperature differences between ENSO and non-ENSO years. Subtidal plants had lower density of long reproductive shoots and a shorter reproductive cycle. Seed release occurred from May to October in the subtidal environment, and from May to November in the intertidal environment. Maximal recorded values were 219.5 (±45.8) seeds per reproductive shoot in the subtidal environment and 151.3 (±21.5) in the intertidal environment. We observed higher sexual activity and lower vegetative biomass in the intertidal environment, the most stressful environment. Both vegetative and reproductive biomass were affected by the increase in temperature during ENSO, but vegetative and reproductive shoot densities were not affected.

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