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Research Document - 2009/085

An Introduction to Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.):
The Persistent Ecosystem Engineer

By H. Vandermeulen

Abstract

Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) is a persistent ecosystem engineer. Zostera meadows ‘filter’ the water column, stabilize sediment, and buffer shorelines. The meadows are important nearshore habitats, which are also sensitive to human disturbance.

In the absence of significant anthropogenic impacts, Zostera meadows are persistent, perennial habitat features. Eelgrass beds can be more than one thousand years old. Eelgrass will persist even in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions or cyclic disease events, and it can ‘bounce back’ if conditions improve. One of the mechanisms for persistence on a bay wide scale is dispersal (seeds and vegetative material) and expansion into new habitats.

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