Depth-related variation in epiphytic communities growing on the brown alga Lobophora variegata in a Caribbean coral reef
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Lobophora variegata is a dominant macroalga on coral reefs across the Caribbean. Over the last two decades, it has expanded its vertical distribution to both shallow and deep reefs along the leeward coast of the island of Curaçao, Southern Caribbean. However, the ecological implications of this expansion and the role of L. variegata as a living substratum are poorly known. This study compared epiphytic algal communities on L. variegata blades along two depth transects (6–40 m). The epiphytic community was diverse with a total of 70 species of which 49 were found directly attached to L. variegata. The epiphytic community varied significantly between blade surface, depth and site. The greatest number of genera per blade was found growing on the underside of the blades regardless of site and depth. Filamentous red algae (e.g. Neosiphonia howei) were commonly found on the upperside of the blades over the whole depth gradient, whereas the underside was mainly colonized by calcifying (e.g. Hydrolithon spp., Jania spp., Amphiroa fragillissima), fleshy red algae (e.g. Champia spp., Gelidiopsis spp., Hypneaspinella) and foliose brown alga (e.g. Dictyota spp.). Anotrichum tenue, a red alga capable of overgrowing corals, was a common epiphyte of both blade surfaces. L. variegata plays an important role as a newly available substratum. Thus, its spread may influence other algal species and studies of benthic macroalgae such as L. variegata should also take into consideration their associated epiphytic algal communities.
KeywordsDeep coral reef Curaçao Macroalgae Phase shifts Turf algae Anotrichum tenue
For kind assistance with diving and field work, we like to thank Svenja Beilfuss. For support and assistance with the microtome cutting procedure, we acknowledge the working group cell biology (Prof. Stick, University of Bremen), especially Ute Helmboldt-Cesar. We are grateful to the staff of the CARMABI foundation: Dr. Mark J. A. Vermeij, Dr. Adolphe Debrot, Carlos Winterdaal, Oscar Frans and Sislin Rosalia for friendly support. For statistical support, we thank Prof. Clarke. This study was supported by the Bremen International Graduate School for Marine Sciences (GLOMAR) that is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the frame of the Excellence Initiative by the German federal and state governments to promote science and research at German universities.
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