Nutrient enrichment promotes survival and dispersal of drifting fragments in an invasive tropical macroalga
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The effect of nutrient availability on growth, survival, and photosynthetic performance of drifting fragments of the invasive red alga Hypnea musciformis was studied in Maui (Hawaii), where this species smothers native reef communities and forms localized blooms. H. musciformis does not sexually reproduce in Hawaii and drifting fragments represent the only pathway by which H. musciformis can disperse and invade new areas. Growth rates decreased with age and approached zero when fragments aged 32 days. Increased nutrient availability did not result in increased relative growth rates during this period. In contrast to growth, photosynthetic performance remained unaffected through time and showed no clear relationship with nutrient availability. Increased nutrient availability increased fragment survival and fragments survived for >2 months in the high nutrient treatment (3.0 μmolPO4 + 30.0 μmolNH4). This indicates that increased nutrient availability increases the dispersal potential of H. musciformis. Low growth rates of drifting Hypnea fragments increased recruitment success since attachment success of this epiphytic species decreased with increasing fragment size. H. musciformis thus uses resources for survival and maintenance rather than growth, resulting in long competency periods and optimal recruitment, which likely contribute to its success as an invader of Hawaiian reef communities.