DOI: 10.1029/2023gb008039 ISSN: 0886-6236

A 2,000‐Year Record of Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) Colonization Shows Substantial Gains in Blue Carbon Storage and Nutrient Retention

Martin Dahl, Martin Gullström, Irene Bernabeu, Oscar Serrano, Carmen Leiva‐Dueñas, Hans W. Linderholm, Maria E. Asplund, Mats Björk, Tinghai Ou, J. Robin Svensson, Elinor Andrén, Thomas Andrén, Sanne Bergman, Sara Braun, Anneli Eklöf, Zilvinas Ežerinskis, Andrius Garbaras, Petter Hällberg, Elin Löfgren, Malin E. Kylander, Pere Masqué, Justina Šapolaitė, Rienk Smittenberg, Miguel A. Mateo
  • Atmospheric Science
  • General Environmental Science
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Global and Planetary Change


Assessing historical environmental conditions linked to habitat colonization is important for understanding long‐term resilience and improving conservation and restoration efforts. Such information is lacking for the seagrass Zostera marina, an important foundation species across cold‐temperate coastal areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Here, we reconstructed environmental conditions during the last 14,000 years from sediment cores in two eelgrass (Z. marina) meadows along the Swedish west coast, with the main aims to identify the time frame of seagrass colonization and describe subsequent biogeochemical changes following establishment. Based on vegetation proxies (lipid biomarkers), eelgrass colonization occurred about 2,000 years ago after geomorphological changes that resulted in a shallow, sheltered environment favoring seagrass growth. Seagrass establishment led to up to 20‐ and 24‐fold increases in sedimentary carbon and nitrogen accumulation rates, respectively. This demonstrates the capacity of seagrasses as efficient ecosystem engineers and their role in global change mitigation and adaptation through CO2 removal, and nutrient and sediment retention. By combining regional climate projections and landscape models, we assessed potential climate change effects on seagrass growth, productivity and distribution until 2100. These predictions showed that seagrass meadows are mostly at risk from increased sedimentation and hydrodynamic changes, while the impact from sea level rise alone might be of less importance in the studied area. This study showcases the positive feedback between seagrass colonization and environmental conditions, which holds promise for successful conservation and restoration efforts aimed at supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the provision of several other crucial ecosystem services.

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