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Sea urchin overgrazing of seagrasses: A review of current knowledge on causes, consequences and management
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Systems Ecology.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Systems Ecology. Stockholm University, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
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2008 (English)In: Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, ISSN 0272-7714, E-ISSN 1096-0015, Vol. 79, no 4, 569-580 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Sea urchins are one of the most common seagrass macro-grazers in contemporary seagrass systems. Occasionally their grazing rates exceed seagrass growth rates, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as overgrazing. Because of a reported increasing frequency of overgrazing events, concomitant with loss of seagrass-associated ecosystem services, it has been suggested that overgrazing is one of the key threats to tropical and subtropical seagrasses. In light of this, we review the current knowledge on causes, consequences. and management of sea urchin overgrazing of seagrasses. Initially we argue that the definition of overgrazing must include scale and impairment of ecosystem services, since this is the de facto definition used in the literature, and will highlight the potential societal costs of seagrass overgrazing. A review of 16 identified cases suggests that urchin overgrazing is a global phenomenon, ranging from temperate to tropical coastal waters and involving at least 11 seagrass and 7 urchin species. Even though most overgrazing events Seem to affect areas of <0.5 km(2), and recovery often occurs within a few years, overgrazing can have a range of large, long-term indirect effects such as loss of associated fauna and decreased sediment stabilization. A range of drivers behind overgrazing have been suggested, including bottom-up (nutrient enrichment). top-down (reduced predation control due to e.g. overfishing), "side-in" mechanisms (e.g. changes in water temperature) and natural population fluctuations. Based on recent studies, there seems to be fairly strong support for the top-down and bottom-up hypotheses. However, many potential drivers often co-occur and interact, especially in areas with high anthropogenic pressure, suggesting that multiple disturbances-by simultaneously reducing predation control, increasing urchin recruitment and reducing the resistance of seagrasses-could pave the way for overgrazing. In management, the most common response to overgrazing has been to remove urchins, but limited knowledge of direct and indirect effects makes it difficult to assess the applicability and sustainability of this method. Based on the wide knowledge gaps, which severely limits management, we suggest that future research should focus on (1) identification and quantification of ecosystem and societal scale effects of overgrazing; (2) assessment of the relative importance and interactions of different drivers; and (3) development of a holistic proactive and reactive long-term management agenda.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2008. Vol. 79, no 4, 569-580 p.
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URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-15604DOI: doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2008.05.005ISI: 000259951400001OAI: diva2:182124
Available from: 2009-02-06 Created: 2009-02-06 Last updated: 2010-04-19Bibliographically approved

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Gullström, Martin
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Department of Systems EcologyStockholm Resilience CentreDepartment of Zoology
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