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Oecologia. 2006 Jul;148(4):672-81. Epub 2006 Apr 6.

Community effects following the deletion of a habitat-forming alga from rocky marine shores.

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Marine Ecology Research Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.


Habitat-forming species increase spatial complexity and alter local environmental conditions, often facilitating a diversified assemblage of plants and animals. Removal of dominant species, therefore, can potentially lead to pronounced changes in diversity and community structure through a series of negative and positive interactions involving several components of the community. Here we test community responses to the deletion of the dominant, canopy-forming alga Hormosira banksii from the mid-intertidal zone of wave-protected rocky shores in southern New Zealand. This species was removed in winter (July) from three 3x3-m areas at each of two platforms (Kaikoura and Moeraki) on the east coast of the South Island. Initially, 59 taxa occurred in stands, but there were only four algal species with greater than 5% cover and three mobile invertebrate species with more than five individuals per 0.25 m(2). By 6 months after Hormosira removal, most fucoid and coralline algae had burned off, and there were blooms of ephemeral algae in the removal plots, but almost no change within controls. After 2 years, diversity declined by 44% relative to controls at Kaikoura and 36% at Moeraki, and the amount of bare space had increased by tenfold at Kaikoura and twofold at Moeraki. Few sessile or mobile invertebrates were present. Recruitment of Hormosira occurred after 14 months in the removal plots. At this time, a "press" disturbance was initiated into one half of each removal plot to test the effects of continued removal of Hormosira on diversity. Similar "end-points" of the control and "press" removal plots were not reached after 2 years, and even after Hormosira recruitment into the original "pulse" experiment there was little recovery of the community. In this mid-intertidal system with considerable thermal stress, and perhaps in others with few perennial species, diversity and community structure can critically depend on positive associations with a single dominant species.

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