The structure of biogenic habitat and epibiotic assemblages associated with the global invasive kelp Undaria pinnatifida in comparison to native macroalgae
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Kelp forests dominate temperate and polar rocky coastlines and represent critical marine habitats because they support elevated rates of primary and secondary production and high biodiversity. A major threat to the stability of these ecosystems is the proliferation of non-native species, such as the Japanese kelp Undaria pinnatifida (‘Wakame’), which has recently colonised natural habitats in the UK. We quantified the abundance and biomass of U. pinnatifida on a natural rocky reef habitat over 10 months to make comparisons with three native canopy-forming brown algae (Laminaria ochroleuca, Saccharina latissima, and Saccorhiza polyschides). We also examined the biogenic habitat structure provided by, and epibiotic assemblages associated with, U. pinnatifida in comparison to native macroalgae. Surveys conducted within the Plymouth Sound Special Area of Conservation indicated that U. pinnatifida is now a dominant and conspicuous member of kelp-dominated communities on natural substrata. Crucially, U. pinnatifida supported a structurally dissimilar and less diverse epibiotic assemblage than the native perennial kelp species. However, U. pinnatifida-associated assemblages were similar to those associated with Saccorhiza polyschides, which has a similar life history and growth strategy. Our results suggest that a shift towards U. pinnatifida dominated reefs could result in impoverished epibiotic assemblages and lower local biodiversity, although this could be offset, to some extent, by the climate-driven proliferation of L. ochroleuca at the poleward range edge, which provides complex biogenic habitat and harbours relatively high biodiversity. Clearly, greater understanding of the long-term dynamics and competitive interactions between these habitat-forming species is needed to accurately predict future biodiversity patterns.
KeywordsNon-native species Epifauna Biodiversity Benthic ecology Temperate reefs Macroalgae
The authors would like to thank the University of Plymouth Marine Station for diving support. DS is supported by an Independent Research Fellowship awarded by the Natural Environment Research Council of the UK (NE/K008439/1). We thank Anna Yunnie for taxonomic assistance.
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