Postgraduate Profiles

Belinda Martin

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Thesis: The seagrass rhizosphere; understanding the bottom to manage the top

Much in the same way that we rely on our gut flora to help digest our food, seagrasses also rely on microbes living in, on or near their roots (the rhizosphere) to regenerate their nutrients. However, the interaction among seagrass roots, the sediments and the microbes they contain remains, quite literally, in the dark. Gaining a greater understanding of these interactions is imperative if we are to better manage these ecosystems, particularly as seagrass habitat continues to disappear across the globe. My research therefore aims to shed some light on the seagrass rhizosphere by characterizing root released organic matter and oxygen, and determining its role in microbial nutrient cycling.

Why my research is important

The importance of seagrass habitat for the health of coastal systems is a well-recognised reality. Not only are they an essential foundation species supporting food webs and carbon and nutrient capture, but they also serve as an essential habitat for many economically important fishery species. Unfortunately, seagrass meadows continue to experience declines globally, with an estimated annual loss of between 1 and 2% per year. While some lost or degraded seagrass habitats may potentially be restored, restoration can be expensive with low success rates. As processes occurring on the scale of the rhizosphere have ecosystem scale consequences, gaining a greater understanding of these interactions is imperative for helping us understand what may be driving some of these seagrass declines.