Long-term changes in macroalgal vegetation on the Swedish coast An evaluation of eutrophication effects with special emphasis on increased organic sedimentation

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: In this thesis I examine and evaluate the effects of a documented large-scale eutrophication on macroalgal vegetation on the Swedish coast. During the past century the load of nutrients has increased manifold in the Baltic Sea area, increasing primary production and organic sedimentation significantly. By re-investigating a unique reference material of macroalgal vegetation from the 1940-60s and by conducting new diving studies at the same sites, I showed that long-term trends in macroalgal community composition and species’ distributions are consistent with changes expected from an increased nutrient availability. In the Öregrund archipelago (northern Baltic Sea), I documented a declined depth distribution of the dominant canopy forming alga, Fucus vesiculosus, and an increased abundance of opportunistic ephemeral algae compared to 52-53 years ago. In the Gullmar Fjord area (Skagerrak), trends included increased abundances of functional groups with opportunistic algae, decreased abundances of large perennial algae and a general decline in the depth distribution of the vegetation compared to 36-57 years ago. Sediment removal experiments in the northern Baltic Sea confirmed the hypothesis that sedimentation influences macroalgal community composition. Species depending on short periods of reproduction were clearly favoured by sediment removal, especially F. vesiculosus that seemed limited in depth by the local sediment load. Species with long continuous periods of dispersal by spores and/or fragments (for example the ephemerals Cladophora glomerata, Ceramium tenuicorne and Enteromorpha spp.) were more tolerant to the natural sediment load. In general, sediment removal favoured macroalgal establishment and development, indicating that variation in the natural sediment load is an important constraint for sublittoral rocky-shore macroalgal community development. I conclude by suggesting that the documented long-term changes in macroalgal vegetation on the Swedish coast partly are explained by an increased organic sedimentation in these areas.