CAS Key Laboratory of Marine Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao 266071, China; Laboratory for Marine Ecology and Environmental Science, Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology, Qingdao 266071, China; Center for Ocean Mega-Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao 266071, China. Electronic address: [Email]
Marine submerged aquatic angiosperms (seagrasses) are declining globally. The species Zostera japonica Asch. & Graebn. is endangered in its native range in Asia, but has been successfully introduced to North America. A large area (1031.8 ha) of Z. japonica meadow has recently been discovered in the intertidal zone of Yellow River Delta, China. This seagrass occurs along both sides of the river mouth, forming dense meadows in turbid water conditions. Seasonal investigations over two years were conducted to examine the distribution, biomass, seed reproduction, seed bank, and population recruitment of the seagrass meadows at three sites in the intertidal zone. The meadows generally showed relatively high coverage, biomass, reproductive effort, and seed production in August. The seed bank was found to be large and contributed to population recruitment. There were significant inter-annual variations overall, and at individual sites. These variations are likely due to winter temperatures, which determine the abundance of overwintering shoots and seedling success. Differences in micro-topography may also play a role in producing variations in seedling success between sites. Microsatellite analysis revealed a high genetic exchange between the two sides of the river mouth. The results indicate that the seagrass bed in the Yellow River Delta shallow waters is in good condition, which can be attributed to its location within a national nature reserve. Establishment of protected areas might act as an effective way to mitigate the anthropogenic disturbance, conserve the seagrass meadows, and then enhance critical ecosystem functions.