Impact of anthropogenically created canopy gaps on wave attenuation in a Posidonia oceanica seagrass meadow

Fixed weights moorings, once removed, can create longitudinal gaps in seagrass meadows of different sizes, running perpendicular to the coast. We quantified the interactions between these longitudinal gaps and the hydrodynamic environment of the nearshore environment to determine their potential impact on seagrass meadow ecology. Within the meadow at leaf length distances from the edge, wave attenuation by the lateral vegetation next to the gap was approximately the same as attenuation by fully vegetated areas, and the wave attenuating capacity of the lateral, near-gap vegetation was independent of gap width. Gaps with widths less than twice the leaf length exhibited 8% wave attenuation and 11% turbulent kinetic energy attenuation, confirming that vegetation shelters at least small gaps. Despite similar capacity for wave attenuation, the longitudinal gaps influenced the architectural characteristics of the adjacent (lateral) meadow; lateral shoot density, percent cover and leaf length adjacent to the largest gap were 12, 16, and 20% lower than the fully vegetated site, respectively. Significant differences in the temporal variation of the mean lateral, near-gap seagrass percent cover and the leaf length indicated a strong dependence of the state of the canopy on temporal hydrodynamic conditions, which in turn were impacted by the presence of the gap. Our results quantify the interactions between gaps and lateral meadow vegetation, highlight the structural impact of traditional moorings and support improved management and conservation of seagrass meadows ​
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