CIE Spotlight: Seed germination in a southern Australian temperate seagrass

Erin C., Craig S., Paul Y. and Timothy S.

Authors: Erin Cumming​, Jessie C. Jarvis, Craig D.H. Sherman, Paul H. York, Timothy M. Smith

Source: PeerJ, 23 March 2017

Brief summary of the paper: In a series of experiments, seeds from a temperate seagrass species, Zostera nigricaulis collected in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia were exposed to a range of salinities (20 PSU pulse/no pulse, 25 PSU, 30 PSU, 35 PSU), temperatures (13 °C, 17 °C, 22 °C), burial depths (0 cm, 1 cm, 2 cm) and site specific sediment characteristics (fine, medium, coarse) to quantify their impacts on germination rate and maximum overall germination.

In southern Australia the seagrass Z. nigricaulis is a common subtidal species; however, little is known about the factors that affect seed germination which is a potential limiting factor in meadow resilience to natural and anthropogenic disturbances.

Overall seed germination was low (<20%) with germination decreasing to <10% when seeds were placed in the sediment. When germination of Z. nigricaulis seeds was observed, it was enhanced (greater overall germination and shorter time to germination) when seeds were exposed to a 20 PSU pulse for 24 h, maintained at salinity of 25 PSU, temperatures <13 °C, in sediments with fine or medium grain sand and buried at a depth of <1 cm.

These results indicate that germination of Z. nigricaulis seeds under in situ conditions may be seasonally limited by temperatures in southern Australia. Seed germination may be further restricted by salinity as freshwater pulses reaching 20 PSU are typically only observed in Port Phillip Bay following large scale rainfall events.

As a result, these populations may be particularly susceptible to disturbance with only a seasonally limited capacity for recovery.