Sarpa salpa Herbivory on Shallow Reaches of Posidonia oceanica Beds
Forthcoming in: Animal Biodiversity and Conservation.
Here, we examined the temporal and small-scale spatial variability of grazing by the herbivorous fish Sarpa salpa on shallow beds of the temperate seagrass Posidonia oceanica. Herbivory intensity expressed as the percent of leaf area taken by fish bites was higher in September 2006 than in February 2007, and at 0.5 m than at 1.5 m during both sampling times. All S. salpa feeding at the shallow locations studied were juveniles, with bite sizes ranging from 0.03 to 0.62 cm2. Juveniles feeding at 1.5 m were larger in February 2007 than in September 2006, as evidenced by significant differences in mean bite size per shoot. However, the larger juveniles feeding at 1.5 m in February 2007 did not appear to feed as frequently as the comparatively smaller juveniles feeding at the same depth in September 2006, as suggested by significant differences in number of bites per shoot. The number of bites per shoot was also lower at 1.5 m than at 0.5 m in February 2007, although mean bite size did not differ significantly between the two dates at that sampling time. In general S. salpa juveniles did not select a particular range of leaf ages when feeding in the study locations, although the juveniles feeding at 1.5 m in September 2006 appeared to select mid-aged leaves. Fish did not show a preference for more epiphytized leaves. These results show that grazing activity by S. salpa juveniles in shallow reaches of P. oceanica meadows may vary temporally and across small changes in depth, which in turn may affect the overall intensity of herbivory on the seagrass.