Impact of Marine Heatwaves on Seagrass Ecosystems

Oscar Serrano, Ariane Arias-Ortiz, Carlos M. Duarte, Gary A. Kendrick, Paul S. Lavery

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review

7 Citations (Web of Science)


Seagrass meadows deliver important ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, enhanced biodiversity, and contribution to climate change mitigation and adaption through carbon sequestration and coastal protection. Seagrasses, however, are facing the impacts of ocean warming and marine heatwaves, which are altering their ecological structure and function. Shifts in species composition, mass mortality events, and loss of ecosystem complexity after sudden extreme climate events are increasingly common, weakening the ecosystem services they provide. In the west coast of Australia, Shark Bay holds between 0.7 and 2.4% of global seagrass extent (>4300 km(2)), but in the austral summer of 2010/2011, the Ningaloo El Nino marine heatwave resulted in the collapse of similar to 1300 km(2) of seagrass ecosystem extent. The loss of the seagrass canopy resulted in the erosion and the likely remineralization of ancient carbon stocks into 2-4 Tg CO2-eq over 6 years following seagrass loss, increasing emissions from land-use change in Australia by 4-8% per annum. Seagrass collapse at Shark Bay also impacted marine food webs, including dugongs, dolphins, cormorants, fish communities, and invertebrates. With increasing recurrence and intensity of marine heatwaves, seagrass resilience is being compromised, underlining the need to implement conservation strategies. Such strategies must precede irreversible climate change-driven tipping points in ecosystem functioning and collapse and result from synchronized efforts involving science, policy, and stakeholders. Management should aim to maintain or enhance the resilience of seagrasses, and using propagation material from heatwave-resistant meadows to restore impacted regions arises as a challenging but promising solution against climate change threats. Although scientific evidence points to severe impacts of extreme climate events on seagrass ecosystems, the occurrence of seagrass assemblages across the planet and the capacity of humans to modify the environment sheds some light on the capability of seagrasses to adapt to changing ecological niches.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEcosystem Collapse and Climate Change
EditorsRB Jackson, JG Canadell
PublisherSpringer Heidelberg
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-71329-4
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameEcological Studies-Analysis and Synthesis
ISSN (Print)0070-8356


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