Disturbance effects of kelp thalli on structure and diversity of a coastal Arctic marine soft-bottom assemblage

Abstract

The effects of biotic disturbances, like seaweed whiplash, on the diversity of benthic communities are well documented for temperate coastal systems, yet missing for Arctic benthos. In Arctic soft-bottom habitats, kelp thalli occur either continuously (e.g. trapped by sediment) or sporadically (by drifting on the sediment) after detachment from rocky shores. To explore whether a kelp thallus can disturb the structure and diversity of a coastal Arctic soft-bottom assemblage, we continuously fixed a single thallus of the kelp Saccharina latissima to or sporadically (i.e. biweekly) moved it on the sediment and compared treatment effects to unmanipulated plots (=controls). On 6 September 2013 (i.e. after 73 days of manipulation), one sediment core was taken from each of the 30 plots (n = 10), from which the number of individuals of each of the 45 encountered animal taxa was recorded. The continuous presence of an experimentally fixed kelp thallus significantly reduced the number of individuals on average by 27 %. This disturbance effect was even stronger, on average 49 %, where a kelp thallus was biweekly moved on the sediment. Likewise, taxon richness was lowered by an average of 19 and 36 % where a S. latissima thallus was continuously or sporadically present, respectively. While the composition of taxa was also significantly different among all treatment groups, evenness and biomass were unaffected by kelp treatments. We conclude that the presence and already movements of a single kelp thallus can promote small-scale patchiness in near-shore soft-bottom assemblage structure and diversity and exemplify a significant connection between rocky and sedimentary coastal habitats.

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Acknowledgments

This work was performed at the International Arctic Environmental Research and Monitoring Facility at Ny-Ålesund, Spitsbergen, Norway. We gratefully acknowledge indispensible technical and field assistance by the AWI scientific dive group, in particular by Max Schwanitz. We thank the AWIPEV team for logistic support. We kindly acknowledge statistical advice by Michael Greenacre. We are grateful to Christian Hass for measurements of grain size of sediment samples. This project is a contribution to RIS 2834. We greatly thank AWI for intramural financial support via KOL 06. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted. Supplementary data are available at doi:10.1594/PANGAEA.846449.

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Correspondence to Markus Molis.

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This article belongs to the special issue on the “Kongsfjorden ecosystem - new views after more than a decade of research”, coordinated by Christian Wiencke and Haakon Hop.

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Petrowski, S., Molis, M., Bender, A. et al. Disturbance effects of kelp thalli on structure and diversity of a coastal Arctic marine soft-bottom assemblage. Polar Biol 39, 2131–2140 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-015-1714-z

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Keywords

  • Benthos
  • Community
  • Disturbance
  • Habitat connectivity
  • Kelp
  • Macroalgae
  • Patchiness
  • Soft-bottom
  • Svalbard