Historical changes in seagrass beds in a rapidly urbanizing area of Guangdong Province: Implications for conservation and management
Rapid urbanization leads to an accelerating decline of seagrass beds. The status of seagrass beds along the entire coastline of a rapidly urbanizing area, Guangdong Province, was examined to document the change in seagrass beds and to explore the determinants of seagrasses characteristics and their plasticity. Thirteen seagrass beds were newly discovered with a total area as 679.04 ha, whereas eleven known seagrass beds have decreased from 972.55 ha to 858.67 ha with seven of them having disappeared in recent decade primarily due to exacerbated construction of artificial shorelines and beach dams, increased nutrient inputs from fish caging and shrimp pond culture, oyster culture, mangrove planting and shellfish collection. The leaf nitrogen content of Halophila ovalis, which dominated the largest beds, increased from (2.09 ± 0.24)% in 2011 to (3.39 ± 0.18)% in 2017, indicating enhanced eutrophication. The optimum seawater dissolved inorganic nitrogen and dissolved inorganic phosphorus levels for Halophila beccarii were 40 μmol/L and 2.5 μmol/L, respectively. The standing stock and plant dimensions of H. beccarii were positively correlated with sediment mud content. Longer, wider leaves, and greater aboveground and belowground biomass were observed at lower salinities, indicating that H. beccarii prefers hyposaline habitats. High shoot density could induce intraspecific competition followed by self-thinning in H. beccarii, leading to reduced leaf area, aboveground and belowground biomass, and root length. Thus, long-term monitoring of seagrass beds along the rapidly urbanizing coastline of Guangdong Province is needed to unravel the mechanisms of decline and to develop effective management strategies.