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PLoS One. 2015 Apr 30;10(4):e0125321. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125321. eCollection 2015.

Assessing Posidonia oceanica seedling substrate preference: an experimental determination of seedling anchorage success in rocky vs. sandy substrates.

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CNR-IAMC, Institute for Coastal Marine Environment, Castellammare del Golfo (TP), Italy.
Saipem S.p.A., San Donato Milanese (MI), Italy.
CNR-IAMC, Institute for Coastal Marine Environment, Torretta Granitola (TP), Italy.


In the last decades the growing awareness of the ecological importance of seagrass meadows has prompted increasing efforts to protect existing beds and restore degraded habitats. An in-depth knowledge of factors acting as major drivers of propagule settlement and recruitment is required in order to understand patterns of seagrass colonization and recovery and to inform appropriate management and conservation strategies. In this work Posidonia oceanica seedlings were reared for five months in a land-based culture facility under simulated natural hydrodynamic conditions to identify suitable substrates for seedling anchorage. Two main substrate features were investigated: firmness (i.e., sand vs. rock) and complexity (i.e., size of interstitial spaces between rocks). Seedlings were successfully grown in culture tanks, obtaining overall seedling survival of 93%. Anchorage was strongly influenced by substrate firmness and took place only on rocks, where it was as high as 89%. Anchorage occurred through adhesion by sticky root hairs. The minimum force required to dislodge plantlets attached to rocky substrates reached 23.830 N (equivalent to 2.43 kg), which would potentially allow many plantlets to overcome winter storms in the field. The ability of rocky substrates to retain seedlings increased with their complexity. The interstitial spaces between rocks provided appropriate microsites for seedling settlement, as seeds were successfully retained, and a suitable substrate for anchorage was available. In conclusion P. oceanica juveniles showed a clear-cut preference for hard substrates over the sandy one, due to the root system adhesive properties. In particular, firm and complex substrates allowed for propagule early and strong anchorage, enhancing persistence and establishment probabilities. Seedling substrate preference documented here leads to expect a more successful sexual recruitment on hard bottoms compared with soft ones. This feature could have influenced P. oceanica patterns of colonization in past and present time.

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