Seagrass ecosystem multifunctionality under the rise of a flagship marine megaherbivore

How does ecosystem functioning change now megaherbivores are returning? In our new paper today in Global Change Biology  we show that the return of the green turtle has strong effects on seagrass ecosystem functions and can even reduce multifunctionality with ~25%. Read the short & simple summary below. 

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Documentary ‘Leatherback’

— Update, Sept 2022 — The documentary won the “Gouden Hert” competition 2022 at the International Short Films Festival in Arnhem.

Mirthe Dokter and me in Arnhem.

In 2021 I was happy to be involved in the making of a documentary with Artist Mirthe Dokter, together with Rian van den Boom and others.

This unconventional docu shows an intriguing portrait of the leatherback sea turtle, threatened with extinction. In Ghana, artist Mirthe meets ‘Uncle Raf’, the leader of a turtle conservationists team in a small fishing town. Slowly, she gets entangled in the web of all the difficulties that come with protecting this ancient animal. Virtual artists Mirthe records her story in a painted diary, that she shares with a marine ecologist, Marjolijn, from the Netherlands.

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Restoring Bonaire’s seagrasses and mangroves a checkerboard at a time

Seagrass and Mangroves on Bonaire can use a helping hand. Water quality, tourists (trampling), Sargassum tides and more, have caused rapid decline of seagrasses and mangroves. Based on results from an earlier pilot, last week we launched a larger scale seagrass restoration project to help counter this decline. And also set up pilots to test the use of a new method for mangrove restoration alongside other ongoing methods. We used biodegradable mats that need only a little amount of donor material. The structure of these mats stabilize the sediment for the young plants to facilitate settlement, mimicking the natural effect of nature root mats.

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Savannas of the sea: “Pristine seagrass meadows were often heavily grazed”

WUR press release:

Seagrasses are important for our coastal protection, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. But contrary to popular belief, dense, waving seagrass meadows with long foliage are not necessarily more natural. In a new publication in Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers from Wageningen University & Research and Radboud University argue for a more nuanced picture of natural seagrass meadows being dense vegetation interspersed with areas grazed by sea turtles. This calls for a change in our nature management practices.

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The price turtles pay for your perfect vacation photo

Unregulated feeding of marine wildlife by tour operators impacts the natural behavior & well-being of sea #turtles. So proud that @FeeSmulders paper (w/ @CORE_Science3, Justin Campbell and myself) is now featured in @nytimes (read this here) photo @ShaneGrossPhoto. Also see the video abstract and WUR press release below.

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Can we improve coastal restoration by temporarily imitating nature? Yes we can!

Coastal ecosystems are in rapid decline around the world. Restoring them is very expensive and is often unsuccessful. But together with an international team of researchers we discovered a way of increasing restoration success of salt marshes and seagrass meadows, using biodegradable mats. Our findings are just published in Nature Communications (22 July 2020)

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The corona version of a Field-based course “Introduction Marine Ecology”

Six weeks before the start of our course our Dutch prime minister announced that the Netherlands was going into lock down in response of the global COVID19 pandemic. to prevent study delay for WUR students we decided the course to continue – in contrast to other field courses that were cancelled – and put all other running business aside to redesign our course. Pre-covid this course had a heavy field component with students learning to setup experiments in the field on the island of Texel, followed by lab analysis, and live lectures. So what did we change? Here an impression of some of the major redesigns. A special thank you to all students for their enthusiasm and praise – and for enduring the sometimes not ideal setting/design flaws of this redesign 🙂 Happy summer.

Currently we are preparing for a more long term COVID friendly version of this course and other courses, just to make sure to be prepared for what might be coming.

Lectures were pre-recorded – and followed by a live Q&A session with a (guest) lecturer where questions of students (submitted through microsoft forms) were answered live in Brightspace (online learning environment) virtual classroom. + students can view the lectures when an how they want – lecturers were talking to a blank screen and missed the interaction with students

Field-excursions were translated into 7 online tutorials enriched by movies that introduced fieldwork techniques, movies of the system, and real data sets to analysis. 

A home “windowsill” experiment with Salicornia still gave the students “green feeling” and a moment to get away from theirs screens to work with real plants.

For their own experiments some students found very creative ways: see this nice article about a student of the course that performed an experiment in her parents wine cooler