The impact of sediment burial and erosion on seagrasses: A review

Susana Cabaço*, Rui Santos, Carlos M. Duarte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

181 Scopus citations


The available information from experimental and descriptive studies on the effects of sediment burial and erosion on seagrasses was compiled to synthesize the information regarding the species-specific impacts and to relate them to plant characteristics. Burial thresholds (i.e. the burial levels causing 50% and 100% shoot mortality) and mortality-burial curves were estimated for the 15 seagrass species where the effects of experimental burial have been tested. All the species investigated reached 50% shoot mortality at burial levels ranging from 2 cm (Halophila ovalis) to 19.5 cm (Posidonia australis). P. australis was the most tolerant seagrass species to burial, while Thalassia testudinum was the most tolerant species to erosion. The relationships among plant size, growth, biomass and density with burial thresholds were examined. There were significant relationships between the burial thresholds and the shoot mass, the rhizome diameter, the aboveground biomass, the horizontal rhizome elongation and the leaf length of seagrass species. The leaf size and the rhizome diameter are the best predictors of the capacity of seagrasses to withstand burial. The burial thresholds estimated for seagrass species were in many cases in agreement with the burial impacts described by field observations (bioturbation), while in some cases was related to the species long-term colonization capacity (dune migration). Most human-induced impacts result in important changes of the sedimentary environment, with permanent negative effects on seagrass meadows (regression and complete destruction), whereas natural events, whether extreme (hurricane) or regular (dune migration), allow the recovery and/or adaptation of seagrasses to the burial/erosion sediment dynamics. The extent of the effects of burial and erosion on seagrasses is species-specific and strongly size-dependent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-366
Number of pages13
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 10 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • burial
  • disturbance
  • erosion
  • impacts
  • plant size
  • seagrass
  • sediment
  • sediment redistribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Oceanography


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