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Herbivore impacts on two morphologically similar bloom-forming Ulva species in a eutrophic bay

Abstract

Herbivore impacts on macrophyte growth vary with the identity of the herbivores and macrophytes, as well as under different abiotic conditions. This interaction is further complicated by anthropogenic alterations to the environment, such as eutrophication. In this study, we utilized in situ herbivore exclusion experiments and mesocosm feeding preference assays to examine the impacts of different herbivores on the growth of two morphologically similar, co-occurring macroalgal bloom Ulva species in a nutrient-rich environment. We found that herbivory had a measurable impact on Ulva biomass, though the rate of consumption rarely surpassed growth for either Ulva species. We determined that the primary herbivores within the blooms were amphipods and mud crabs, and that their effects varied among study sites and months. Our results also confirmed that, even with a diverse suite of consumers, Ulva blooms are capable of escaping herbivore control, particularly early in the growing season when growth rates peak and herbivore activity is limited. Furthermore, our experiments revealed species-specific feeding preferences among herbivores, as well as differences in growth rates and chemistry between the two Ulva species, which likely influence bloom dynamics.

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Acknowledgments

We thank C. Newton, N. Rohr, L. Steele, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that improved this manuscript. Additional thanks to J. Burkhardt, K. Eldredge, C. Newton, E. Vincent, and A. Viveiros for their help with cage deployment and sample processing, A. Barbosa, E. Blair, C. Donahue, K. Hyman, S. Rinehart, and N. Rohr for sample processing assistance, and E. Baker for his assistance with the University of Rhode Island Center for Marine Life Science facilities. Field experiments were conducted under Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council permit #s 2008-06-093, 2008-06-094, and 2008-06-095. Funding for this research was provided by Bay Window (the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration), Rhode Island Sea Grant, the National Science Foundation (NSF IOB-0090825), the Sounds Conservancy Quebec-Labrador Foundation, and the University of Rhode Island. This material is also based upon work conducted at the Rhode Island Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) supported Center for Marine Life Science that is supported by the National Science Foundation under EPSCoR Grant #1004057.

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Correspondence to Michele Guidone.

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Guidone, M., Thornber, C.S. & Van Alstyne, K.L. Herbivore impacts on two morphologically similar bloom-forming Ulva species in a eutrophic bay. Hydrobiologia 753, 175–188 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-015-2204-6

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Keywords

  • Algal bloom
  • Eutrophication
  • Green tide
  • Herbivore
  • Top down control
  • Ulva