Mechanisms influencing the spread of a native marine alga
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Like invasive macrophytes, some native macrophytes are spreading rapidly with consequences for community structure. There is evidence that the native alga Caulerpa filiformis is spreading along intertidal rocky shores in New South Wales, Australia, seemingly at the expense of native Sargassum spp. We experimentally investigated the role physical disturbance plays in the spread of C. filiformis and its possible consequences for Sargassum spp. Cleared patches within beds of C. filiformis (Caulerpa habitat) or Sargassum spp. (Sargassum habitat) at multiple sites showed that C. filiformis had significantly higher recruitment (via propagules) into its own habitat. The recruitment of Sargassum spp. to Caulerpa habitat was rare, possibly due in part to sediment accretion within Caulerpa habitat. Diversity of newly recruited epibiotic assemblages within Caulerpa habitat was significantly less than in Sargassum habitat. In addition, more C. filiformis than Sargassum spp. recruited to Sargassum habitat at some sites. On common boundaries between these two macroalgae, the vegetative growth of adjacent C. filiformis into cleared patches was significantly higher than for adjacent Sargassum spp. In both experiments, results were largely independent of the size of disturbance (clearing). Lastly, we used PAM fluorometry to show that the photosynthetic condition of Sargassum spp. fronds adjacent to C. filiformis was generally suppressed relative to those distant from C. filiformis. Thus, physical disturbance, combined with invasive traits (e.g. high levels of recruitment and vegetative growth) most likely facilitate the spread of C. filiformis, with the ramifications being lower epibiotic diversity and possibly reduced photosynthetic condition of co-occurring native macrophytes. © 2014 Zhang et al.
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