Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Herbivores are a diverse group of fauna that shape the distribution and composition of plant communities. In some cases, herbivory may prevent the re-establishment of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), such as Vallisneria americana, into systems. The goal of this study was to investigate the role and nature of herbivory on V. americana transplants with camera and transect surveys of grazing intensity and with field and laboratory grazing experiments using a suspected herbivore, the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus. Camera surveys recorded C. sapidus clipping and consuming shoots of V. americana for the first time. Grazing intensity surveys in low-salinity regions of the lower Chesapeake Bay indicated that the majority of V. americana transplants (50–75%) were clipped off at their base within one week of planting. Field and laboratory experiments demonstrated that C. sapidus clips and consumes V. americana as well as other rapidly colonizing, non-native SAV. Analysis of the gut contents of C. sapidus caught in SAV beds in the Chesapeake Bay revealed that SAV comprised 16% of their stomach contents, suggesting low levels of C. sapidus herbivory occurred over a wide area. Callinectes sapidus is yet another animal documented to consume SAV for some portion of their diet. These results also suggest that herbivores or omnivores, including C. sapidus, can serve as bottlenecks to recovery of SAV, like V. americana, in some areas. Herbivores may not serve as bottlenecks in other environments or to other SAV with more rapid plant growth or higher recruitment levels that may overcome grazing pressure.
Plant population, Non-native Restoration, Recovery, Blue crab
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Johnson, A. J.; Orth, R. J.; and Moore, Ken, Herbivory regulates the establishment of a native species of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in a tidal estuary of the USA (2019). Oecologia.