Amphipods on seaweeds: partners or pests?
- Cite this article as:
- Duffy, J.E. Oecologia (1990) 83: 267. doi:10.1007/BF00317764
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Herbivorous marine amphipods have been implicated as important grazers on filamentous and ephemeral algae, and thus as beneficial to macrophytes in reducing overgrowth by epiphytic competitors. In North Carolina, USA, amphipods comprise 97% of all macroscopic animals inhabiting the abundant brown seaweed Sargassum filipendula, and peak in abundance between late winter and early summer. I used outdoor tank experiments to test the species-specific impact of common phytal amphipods on the growth of Sargassum and its epiphytes. The results show that seaweed-associated amphipods are a trophically diverse group that could either increase or decrease host fitness depending on their feeding preferences. The amphipods Ampithoe marcuzii, Caprella penantis, and Jassa falcata each significantly reduced growth of epiphytes on Sargassum plants relative to amphipod-free controls, while Ericthonius brasiliensis had no significant effect on Sargassum or its epiphytes. However, amphipod grazing was not necessarily beneficial to Sargassum. A. marcuzii consumed Sargassum in one outdoor tank experiment, reducing its mass by 11%, while Sargassum plants without amphipods grew by 81%. Epiphytes (mostly diatoms and the filamentous brown alga Ectocarpus siliculosus) and detritus remained abundant on these plants suggesting that A. marcuzii preferred the host to its epiphytes. Similarly, when given simultaneous access to Sargassum and to several common foliose and filamentous epiphytes in the lab, A. marcuzii ate Sargassum almost exclusively. The other three amphipods ate no macroalgae. In contrast to A. marcuzii, C. penantis consistently reduced epiphytes with no negative effect on Sargassum. Thus the species composition of the amphipod fauna can determine whether these animals increase or decrease seaweed fitness.