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Seagrasses in the Gulf of Mexico could be overgrazed by migrating herbivores due to warming waters

"If we don't manage them properly, then those seagrasses will be less resilient, and we could potentially degrade a very, very valuable habitat," said Tom Frazer of USF.

As oceans warm and organisms that feed on seagrasses move north, they could overgraze parts of the Gulf of Mexico, including areas in the greater Tampa Bay region.

This finding comes from a peer-reviewed study recently published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Tom Frazer, the dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida, was one of dozens of other scientists who researched areas off Florida's Gulf Coast, the Florida Keys, the Cayman Islands, and parts of Panama.

They focused on turtle grass, which is the predominant structural habitat in the Gulf and the broader Caribbean region. It provides foraging areas for many animals that are important both ecologically and economically.

"In Florida, for example, probably about 85% of the fishes that we exploit either recreationally or commercially spend some part of their life history in seagrass beds," Frazer said.

The researchers observed the effects on how grazing and nutrient pollution might alter the growth characteristics or the productivity of seagrass beds.