Short-term temporal dynamics of algal species in a subtidal kelp bed in relation to changes in environmental conditions and canopy biomass
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
Understanding temporal variation at the scale of weeks to months is critical to understanding broad temporal patterns in diversity in the same way as understanding diversity across landscapes relies on understanding variation at the scale of meters. However, whereas small-scale spatial variation in temperate reef algal assemblages has been extensively studied, fine-scale temporal changes have not been well addressed. By sampling the macroalgae of a subtidal reef near Perth (Australia), dominated by the small kelp Ecklonia radiata, every ∼40 days over a 2-year period, we were able to test whether temporal changes in species richness, assemblage structure and species turn-over were related to seasonal changes in surface temperature, solar radiation and wave height. A total of 93 macroalgal taxa were identified, and species richness per sampling time ranged from 25 to 64 taxa 1.25 m−2. Biomass of E. radiata was positively correlated with changes in sea surface temperature and light, and negatively correlated with wave height. Species richness, assemblage structure and turn-over of other macroalgae were more associated with seasonal changes in kelp biomass than environmental variables per se. We conclude that seasonal changes in environmental conditions drive changes in the kelp canopy, which in turn drive changes in species richness and assemblage structure. This suggests that habitat-formers such as kelps can exert a strong temporal influence on associated communities, analogous to well-described spatial influences. Thus, as kelp canopy biomass expands and retracts over time-scales of weeks to months, so does available space for colonization and growth, resulting in a high species turn-over. Species richness is therefore increased and maintained through time, in the same way as canopy-gap mosaics increase and maintain species richness across spatial landscapes.