Wastewater pulses from rice agriculture are persistently discharged into the northern shore of the Alfacs Bay (Ebro Delta, NW Mediterranean) from April to November. The bay also receives water from coastal lagoons which are subjected to freshwater inputs from the Ebro River mixed to an unknown extent with agricultural wastewater during the same period. This paper compares epiphyte assemblages growing on leaves of Cymodocea nodosa in sites exposed to agricultural drainage channels, lagoon connection channels, and control sites in the Ebro Delta Natural Park (southern shore of the bay). Leaf epiphytic assemblages of Zostera noltii patches in the northern shore of the bay were also compared with those of adjacent beds of C. nodosa. Drainage channel sites had consistently distinctive assemblages (higher species richness, biomass load, and taxa composition) than control sites. Assemblages from lagoon channel sites were more variable, with three sites showing particularly high covers of epiphytic algae and two sites more similar to controls. Epiphyte patterns clearly matched in situ measures of nutrient availability, and were consistent with decreased shoot densities in discharge sites. In contrast, differences in epiphyte assemblages between seagrass species were minor, and mostly a result of higher epiphytic loads on C. nodosa than on Z. noltii, which features thinner leaves. Further research is needed to investigate the consequences of these plant and epiphyte alterations in important ecosystem processes such as decomposition and export rates, as well as overall effects of nutrients and salinity in secondary producers such as associated macroinvertebrate assemblages supporting locally important marine fisheries.
Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science – Elsevier
Published: May 1, 2018
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