Abstract

Seagrasses are considered highly important CO2 sinks, with the capacity to store substantial quantities of organic carbon in the living biomass and sediments, and thereby acting as a buffer against climate change. In this thesis, I have studied carbon storage variability in temperate and tropical seagrass habitats and identified factors influencing this variation. In addition, as seagrass areas are decreasing worldwide, I have assessed effects of different anthropogenic disturbances on carbon sequestration processes. The result from this thesis showed that there was a large variation in carbon storage within and among temperate, tropical and subtropical regions. The highest organic carbon stocks were found in temperate Zostera marina meadows, which also showed a larger carbon storage variability than the subtropical and tropical seagrass habitats. The tropical and subtropical seagrass meadows had inorganic carbon pools exceeding the organic carbon accumulation, which could potentially weakens the carbon sink function. The variability in organic carbon stocks was generally strongly related to the sediment characteristics of the seagrass habitats. In Z. marina meadows, the strength of the carbon sink function was mainly driven by the settings of the local environment, which in turn indicates that depositional areas will likely have higher organic carbon stocks than more exposed meadows, while in the tropics seagrass biomass was also influencing sedimentary carbon levels. Furthermore, locations with large areas of seagrass were associated with higher carbon storage in tropical and subtropical regions, which could be related to increased accumulation of both autochthonous and allochthonous carbon. In an in situ experiment, impacts on carbon sequestration processes from two types of disturbances (with two levels of intensity) were tested by simulating reduced water quality (by shading) and high grazing pressure (through removal of shoot biomass). At high disturbance intensity, reductions in the net community production and seagrass biomass carbon were observed, which negatively affected carbon sequestration and could impact the sedimentary organic carbon stocks over time. In the treatments with simulated grazing, erosion was also seen, likely due to an increase in near-bed hydrodynamics. When experimentally testing effects of increased current flow on organic carbon suspension in Z. marina sediment, a ten-fold release of organic carbon with higher current flow velocities was measured, which resulted in an increase in the proportion of suspended organic carbon by three times in relation to other sediment particles. Therefore, periods with enhanced hydrodynamic activity could result in a removal of organic carbon and thereby likely reduce the seagrass meadows’ capacity to store carbon. The findings of this thesis add to the emerging picture that there is a large natural variability in seagrasses’ capacity to store carbon, and highlight how human-induced disturbances could negatively affect the carbon sink function in seagrass meadows.