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The role of ocean dynamics on seagrass seed dispersal and recruitment in Western Australia
Seagrasses are marine flowering plants with the capacity to reproduce either asexually by rhizome elongation, or sexually by pollination and seed release. These plants inhabit both temperate and tropical waters, making them important primary producers as well as efficient nutrient recyclers. This project is developing and applying a coastal numerical ocean model to improve our understanding of the dispersal of seagrass seeds along Western Australia. In order to achieve this, the physical properties of the seeds of three very different species (Posidonia, Halophila & Heterozostera) are being quantified in laboratory and field studies. These seed properties will be incorporated into the ocean model, to predict seed dispersal pathways and potential recruitment sites as the main outcome. The results will provide insight into how different populations will respond to certain environmental conditions, and how dispersal is affected by different forcing scenarios, such as during extreme storm events.
Despite the importance of seagrasses to coastal ecosystems, their population dynamics, especially sexual reproduction remain very poorly understood. The decline of populations worldwide, induced by human activities (dredging, coastal development, pollution, etc.) has been a major problem, thus important restoration efforts by transplantation have been carried out. Sexual reproduction is thought to be a key reproductive strategy that these plants use for colonization, but its importance has not been well studied in the literature. This study will describe the key properties seeds, such as buoyancy and settling velocity, for three species with very different characteristics. This will allow us to predict their dispersal patterns using a numerical ocean model. This will provide insight into how connected different seagrass populations are along the SW coast of Australia, and how the dispersal of seagrasses is affected by physical ocean conditions.