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Study reveals that animals contribute to seagrass dispersal
Date:12/19/2012

(December 19, 2012) Look out the window and you're likely to see the dispersal of seedsdandelion tufts in the wind, a squirrel burying an acorn, a robin flying off with a dogwood fruit. You might even have a burr "velcroed" to your sock.

Sarah Sumoski, a recent graduate of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has now published a study of seed dispersal in a less-familiar environmentthe eelgrass beds of Chesapeake Bay. The studythe first to show that marine animals can disperse eelgrass seedsappears as the featured article in today's issue of Marine Ecology Progress Series. It is co-authored by Dr. Robert "JJ" Orth, head of the Seagrass Monitoring and Restoration program at VIMS and Sumoski's major professor in the College of William and Mary's School of Marine Science at VIMS.

Eelgrasslike other seagrassesis a flowering plant that reproduces both by sending out rhizomes (like crabgrass) and producing tiny underwater seeds (like the fescues of many lawns). Eelgrass beds play a key ecological role in Chesapeake Bay and other coastal ecosystems but are in decline worldwide due to cloudy waters, warm temperatures, and excess nutrients that encourage the growth of light-stealing algae.

Understanding how seagrass seeds are dispersed is important for guiding efforts to restore seagrass meadows in Chesapeake Bay and other coastal ecosystems, and for informing the models that are used to guide seagrass management plans and restoration efforts.

"Traditional thinking is that eelgrass disperses by abiotic mechanisms such as floating seeds, floating reproductive shoots, or currents pushing seeds along the seafloor," says Sumoski. "Our study shows that eelgrass seeds can also be dispersed through consumption and excretion by fish, terrapins, and birdsproviding a means to bring seeds to isolated areas unlikely to receive seeds via abiotic mechanisms. In fact, we think the distance a seed travels via biotic dispersal may riva
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Contact: David Malmquist
davem@vims.edu
804-684-7011
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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