Macrofaunal associations with seagrass epiphytes relative importance of trophic and structural characteristics

Paul A.X. Bologna, Kenneth L. Heck

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136 Scopus citations


Attached epiphytes often make important contributions to total primary production in seagrass meadows. Additionally, they may increase the spatial complexity of seagrass habitats. Experiments conducted using artificial seagrass units (ASU) manipulated both epiphytic structure and epiphytic food resources. Previous work suggested that the increase in faunal density associated with epiphytes was related to increases in structure, but our results indicate that the primary impact of epiphytes lies in their trophic role. Data showed that epifaunal density was significantly greater in conditioned ASUs fouled with a live community of epiphytes (12 285 individuals m-2) compared to ASUs with artificially created epiphytic structure (5099 inds. m-2) and to control ASUs (5955 inds. m-2). This response to epiphytic trophic resources was significant for most herbivore/omnivore taxa, but not necessarily for filter feeding or predatory epifauna. However, densities of two predatory taxa (fish and mud crabs) were significantly greater where epiphytic biomass was higher, which may reflect their response to increased prey abundance. Additionally, ASUs conditioned with live epiphytes had greater taxa richness than other ASUs. Epiphytic structure appeared to play only a limited role in determining the density of most mobile epifauna, but epiphytic structure appeared to be important in augmenting the settlement of bivalves. By using ASUs we were able to control aspects of blade length and shoot density, but the pre-experiment conditioning of treatments fouled with live epiphytes may have played a role in determining absolute differences in macrofaunal density among ASU treatments. Overall, our work suggests that the trophic role of epiphytes can have a dramatic impact on associated epifaunal communities, although future investigations are needed to assess this relationship more fully.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-39
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Sep 1999


  • Artificial seagrass unit
  • Epifauna
  • Epiphyte
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Seagrass
  • Thalassia testudinum


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