Differences between native and invasive Caulerpa taxifolia: a link between asexual fragmentation and abundance in invasive populations
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- Wright, J.T. Marine Biology (2005) 147: 559. doi:10.1007/s00227-005-1561-5
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The tropical and subtropical marine green alga Caulerpa taxifolia has invaded several temperate regions throughout the world, including southeastern Australia. In this study, I examined how invasive C. taxifolia from temperate southeastern Australia differed from native C. taxifolia from subtropical Moreton Bay, Australia, in the traits proposed as being important to its invasion success: thallus size and density, levels of asexual reproduction (fragmentation) and total biomass. Against the prediction of a large size for invasive C. taxifolia, native populations from Moreton Bay had larger stolons and fronds than invasive populations. However, invasive populations consistently had much higher densities of stolons, fronds and fragmented fronds; and a greater biomass compared to native populations. Average densities at invasive sites exceeded 4,700 stolons and 9,000 fronds/m2 and were as high as 27,000 stolons and 95,000 fronds/m2, whichare the highest reported for C. taxifolia anywhere. Average densities of fragmented fronds at invasive sites were as high as 6,000/m2 and up to 45% of all stolons at invasive sites could be directly linked to asexual recruitment via fragmented fronds. Importantly, at invasive locations there was a strong association between asexual reproduction and abundance demonstrated by positive correlations between the density of fragmented fronds and total biomass. These findings are the first to describe quantitative differences between native and invasive C. taxifolia and to demonstrate a link between the high levels of asexual reproduction and high abundance in invasive populations. Although the causes and consequences of high levels of asexual reproduction remain to be explored, this study suggests that changes in demographic and life-history traits during the invasion by C. taxifolia into temperate habitats may contribute to its success there.