, Volume 62, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 33-43
Date: 20 Dec 2007

Macrocystis integrifolia and Lessonia trabeculata (Laminariales; Phaeophyceae) kelp habitat structures and associated macrobenthic community off northern Chile

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Macrocystis integrifolia and Lessonia trabeculata form vast kelp beds providing a three-dimensional habitat for a diverse invertebrate and fish fauna off northern Chile. Habitat modifications caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are likely to alter the inhabiting communities. The aim of this study was to reveal relationships between distinct habitat structures of a M. integrifolia kelp bed, a dense L. trabeculata kelp bed and L. trabeculata patches colonizing a barren ground, and the associated dominant macrobenthic key species. Seasonally 15 sampling units (10 m2 each) of any of the three habitats were monitored by SCUBA divers, which counted sporophytes and macroinvertebrates living between the latter. Furthermore, samples of plants were analysed in the laboratory to measure the morphological variables: total plant length, maximal holdfast diameter, stipe number, number of dichotomies per stipe, frond width and total drained wet mass. Multivariate analysis showed that the L. trabeculata kelp bed is denser, with a higher number of dichotomies per stipe, whereas sporophytes of M. integrifolia are longer with more stipes and wider fronds. Sporophytes of L. trabeculata patchily present on barren ground are shorter and have more stipes compared with those in the dense L. trabeculata kelp bed. Thus, the habitats provide different three-dimensional structures. The associated macrobenthic communities show a variable degree of overlapping; however, key faunal assemblages were distinguished for each habitat. Our study provides evidence that habitat diversity drives species diversity, the more homogeneous, monospecifically composed kelp bed habitats show comparatively low diversity, mainly caused by the dominance of the ascidian P. chilensis and T. tridentata in the M. integrifolia bed, and the mussel A. ater only present in the L. trabeculata bed. Species richness and diversity is highest in the heterogeneous habitat where L. trabeculata patches interrupt the barren ground. Our study revealed morphological differences between M. integrifolia and L. trabeculata kelp beds reflected in stipe number, plant length, dichotomies per stipe, and wet mass, which influence the composition of the associated characteristic fauna and its functional relations i.e. T. niger and T. tridentata.

Communicated by Sven Thatje.
Special Issue: Climate variability and El Niño Southern Oscillation: implications for natural coastal resources and management. S. Thatje (ed.)