Habitat associations of an expanding native alga

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Marine Environmental Research, 2017, 131 pp. 205 - 214
Issue Date:
2017-10-01
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© 2017 Elsevier Ltd There are many examples of native macrophytes becoming locally dominant and spreading outside their traditional distributions, but the causes and impacts are often not understood. In New South Wales, Australia, the green alga Caulerpa filiformis is undergoing a range expansion and has transitioned from a subdominant to a dominant alga on several rocky shores around the Sydney coastline. Here we investigated relationships between established patches of C. filiformis, the habitat it occupies and associated algal communities at multiple subtidal sites over the green alga's 700 km range. We tested the following predictions: 1) C. filiformis cover differs among substrata, being greatest on turf-forming algae; 2) C. filiformis cover is positively related to environmental variables linked to increased sedimentation (e.g. reduced reef width, surface slope, increased rugosity and distance from shore); 3) occurrence of C. filiformis is associated with a change in macrophyte community structure and a reduction of macrophyte richness; 4) intact native algal canopies inhibit C. filiformis spread, but turf-forming algae and bare sand are susceptible to invasion. Substratum associations were highly consistent among sites, but contrary to our prediction, C. filiformis was most commonly associated with rock or rock + sand substratum and less frequently associated with turf-forming algae substratum. C. filiformis cover was negatively correlated with reef width, which explained most of the variation observed, although local scale variables distance from shore, reef slope, and water depth were also correlated with C. filiformis cover. Algal diversity and community composition typically differed in the presence of C. filiformis, often with a reduction of algal abundances, in particular Sargassum spp., although results varied among substrata and sites. However, monitoring of borders suggested that C. filiformis does not invade and outcompete undisturbed adjacent canopy-forming algae over a 12 month period. Our results suggest that disturbance processes (possibly linked to sedimentation) acting at the site and quadrat scale are likely important determinants of C. filiformis cover and spread, and hence its potential ecological impacts.
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