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Ecology. 2006 Jul;87(7):1744-54.

Demographic feedback between clonal growth and fragmentation in an invasive seaweed.

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  • 1Institute for Conservation Biology and School of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia.


Many abundant plants, invertebrates, and seaweed are clonal, and this allows the formation of high-density aggregations, foraging, and the placement of modules into new space, and rapid rates of expansion. For these species, population density and rates of expansion are functions of recruitment of asexual modules and post-recruitment vegetative growth and survivorship. In this study, we provide the first experimental test of the relative importance of these two processes in determining the abundance of a clonal seaweed using Caulerpa taxifolia, an invasive green alga that spreads rapidly and reaches very high abundance. We asked two main questions: What is the relative importance to abundance (biomass) of vegetative stolon growth and fragment recruitment during expansion of established patches? Does greater fragment recruitment result in greater abundance in established patches? Vegetative growth of stolons underpinned patch expansion. Plots with stolons growing into them always had a greater abundance than plots where stolons were removed, even when fragment recruitment was increased. Greater recruitment only resulted in greater abundance when stolons were absent, a situation analogous to the establishment of new populations. Although post-recruitment processes were more important in determining abundance during patch expansion, there was greater ambient fragment recruitment when stolons were present compared to when they were absent, and as the abundance of C. taxifolia increased, demonstrating an important feedback between stolon growth, abundance, and fragment recruitment. In established patches, greater fragment recruitment over six months (six levels ranging from 0 to 480 recruits x m(-2) x mo(-1)) had no effect on biomass. Our experiments demonstrate that the rapid expansion and high abundance of invasive C. taxifolia are underpinned by post-recruitment vegetative growth and, during expansion, by a feedback between vegetative growth and asexual fragmentation.

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