Marine Biology

, Volume 144, Issue 1, pp 51–59 | Cite as

Where is the western limit of the tropical Indian Ocean seaweed flora? An analysis of intertidal seaweed biogeography on the east coast of South Africa

  • J. J. BoltonEmail author
  • F. Leliaert
  • O. De Clerck
  • R. J. Anderson
  • H. Stegenga
  • H. E. Engledow
  • E. Coppejans
Research Article


New, large-scale collections have been made of marine benthic macroalgae (seaweeds) on the east coast of South Africa, and the distributions of shallow-water species were analyzed in detail by multivariate, clustering and β-diversity methods. The two northernmost sites are distinct, with a predominance of tropical species, and it is concluded that the changeover from a tropical Indian Ocean flora to a temperate South African flora occurs most rapidly in the vicinity of St. Lucia, 135 km south of the Mozambique border. It is imperative that all future biogeographical studies on the South African inshore marine biota include detailed collections north of St. Lucia. The remaining 440 km of the South African east coast (southern and central Kwazulu-Natal Province) is populated by a mixture of tropical and temperate elements, with only 2% endemism in this data set. This, thus, represents a true overlap region, with relatively equal numbers of species with affinities in the temperate Agulhas and tropical Indo–West Pacific floras, rather than a distinctive sub-tropical marine province, as the South African east coast is considered to be by most previous authors. The distinction between this overlap region and the south coast (Agulhas) region proper is not as clearly distinct. The change from a temperate to a tropical flora shows a relative increase in green algae from 15% to 25% of the species present. Criteria for the delineation of marine biogeographical regions are critically discussed, and it is concluded that the monitoring of distributions of all species, including rare species, is necessary. This is particularly relevant with regard to using these data to assess effects of potential changes in seawater temperature, including those which may be caused by global warming. Criteria for the delimitation of biogeographic entities such as "marine provinces" need to be clearly spelt out in all investigations.


Detrended Correspondence Analysis South Coast Tropical Indian Ocean Seaweed Species Agulhas Current 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to acknowledge financial assistance from the National Research Foundation and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (South Africa), and the Community of Flanders. Dr. H. Stegenga's contribution was funded by the South Africa Netherlands Program for Alternatives in Development. We are extremely grateful to J. Harris and her team at Ezemvelo Kwazulu-Natal Wildlife for excellent and enthusiastic logistical support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. J. Bolton
    • 1
    Email author
  • F. Leliaert
    • 2
  • O. De Clerck
    • 1
    • 2
  • R. J. Anderson
    • 3
  • H. Stegenga
    • 4
  • H. E. Engledow
    • 1
    • 2
  • E. Coppejans
    • 2
  1. 1.Botany DepartmentUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.Research Group PhycologyUniversity of GhentGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Seaweed UnitMarine & Coastal ManagementRoggebaaiSouth Africa
  4. 4.National Herbarium of the NetherlandsRA LeidenThe Netherlands

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