, Volume 179, Issue 4, pp 1199–1209 | Cite as

Trophic versus structural effects of a marine foundation species, giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera)

  • Robert J. Miller
  • Henry M. Page
  • Daniel C. Reed
Community ecology - Original research


Foundation species create milieus in which ecosystems evolve, altering species abundances and distribution often to a dramatic degree. Although much descriptive work supports their importance, there remains little definitive information on the mechanisms by which foundation species alter their environment. These mechanisms fall into two basic categories: provision of food or other materials, and modification of the physical environment. Here, we manipulated the abundance of a marine foundation species, the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera, in 40 × 40-m plots at Mohawk Reef off Santa Barbara, California and found that its biomass had a strong positive effect on the abundance of bottom-dwelling sessile invertebrates. We examined the carbon (C) stable isotope values of seven species of sessile invertebrates in the treatment plots to test the hypothesis that this positive effect resulted from a nutritional supplement of small suspended particles of kelp detritus, as many studies have posited. We found no evidence from stable isotope analyses to support the hypothesis that kelp detritus is an important food source for sessile suspension-feeding invertebrates. The isotope composition of invertebrates varied with species and season, but was not affected by kelp biomass, with the exception of two species: the tunicate Styela montereyensis, which exhibited a slight enrichment in C stable isotope composition with increasing kelp biomass, and the hydroid Aglaophenia sp., which showed the opposite effect. These results suggest that modification of the physical habitat, rather than nutritional subsidy by kelp detritus, likely accounts for increased abundance of sessile invertebrates within giant kelp forests.


Ecosystem engineers Stable isotopes Detritus Sessile invertebrates Macroalgae 



We thank S. Harrer, P. Laverty, C. Nelson, C. Santschi, N. Schooler, A. Wang, and K. Yager for field and laboratory assistance. The University of California Santa Barbara Marine Science Institute Analytical Laboratory analyzed samples for stable isotopes. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research Program and by NSF OCE 0962306 to H. M. P. and R. J. M.

Author contribution statement

R. J. M., H. M. P. and D. C. R. conceived and designed the experiments. R. J. M. and H. M. P. performed the experiments. R. J. M. analyzed the data. R. J. M., H. M. P. and D. C. R. wrote the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert J. Miller
    • 1
  • Henry M. Page
    • 1
  • Daniel C. Reed
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Science InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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