Disturbance alters ecosystem engineering by a canopy-forming alga

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Canopy-forming fucoid algae have an important role as ecosystem engineers on rocky intertidal shores, where they increase the abundance of species otherwise limited by exposure during low tide. The facilitative relationship between Ascophyllum
nodosum and associated organisms was explored using a frond breakage experiment (100%, 50%, 25%, 0% intact-frond treatments) in southern England, to assess the consequences of disturbance. Understorey substratum temperature was on average
38C higher in 0% and 25% intact-frond treatments than in plots with 50% and 100% intact fronds. Light (as PAR during low tide) doubled in 0% intact-frond treatments in comparison to other treatments (which had similar light levels). Mobile invertebrate
species richness declined by on average 1 species per m2 in the treatments with only 25% and 0% intact fronds, and the abundance of Littorina obtusata declined by 2.4–4.2 individuals per m2 in the treatments with 25 and 0% intact fronds.
Sessile taxa, including Osmundea pinnatifida and encrusting coralline algae, declined by half on average in the 0% intactfrond treatment. These results suggest that the ability of Ascophyllum to mediate environmental conditions to the understorey
is the mechanism responsible for species distributed in the understorey (autogenic ecosystem engineering). The results of this study imply that a pulse disturbance resulting in a 50% breakage of Ascophyllum fronds significantly increases
temperature and decreases the abundance of mobile invertebrates usually associated with Ascophyllum. Sessile taxa associated with Ascophyllum can, however, withstand disturbances down to 25% intact Ascophyllum fronds.


  • Ascophyllum nodosum, Community, Facilitation, Foundation species, Macroalgae, Marine, Intertidal
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-698
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Issue number4
Early online date23 Jan 2017
StatePublished - Jun 2018

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