Habitat fragmentation causes collapse of kelp recruitment
Layton, C and Cameron, MJ and Tatsumi, M and Shelamoff, V and Wright, JT and Johnson, CR, Habitat fragmentation causes collapse of kelp recruitment, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 648 pp. 111-123. ISSN 0171-8630 (2020) [Refereed Article]
Kelp forests in many regions are experiencing disturbance from anthropogenic sources such as ocean warming, pollution, and overgrazing. Unlike natural disturbances such as storms, anthropogenic disturbances often manifest as press perturbations that cause persistent alterations to the environment. One consequence is that some kelp forests are becoming increasingly sparse and fragmented. We manipulated patch size of the kelp Ecklonia radiata over 24 mo to simulate persistent habitat fragmentation and assessed how this influenced the demography of macro- and microscopic juvenile kelp within the patches. At the beginning of the experiment, patch formation resulted in short-term increases in E. radiata recruitment in patches <1 m2. However, recruitment collapsed in those same patches over the extended period, with no recruits observed after 15 mo. Experimental transplants of microscopic and macroscopic juvenile sporophytes into the patches failed to identify the life stage impacted by the reductions in patch size, indicating that the effects may be subtle and require extended periods to manifest, and/or that another life stage is responsible. Abiotic measurements within the patches indicated that kelp were less able to engineer the sub-canopy environment in smaller patches. In particular, reduced shading of the sub-canopy in smaller patches was associated with proliferation of sediments and turf algae, which potentially contributed to the collapse of recruitment. We demonstrate the consequences of short- and longer-term degradation of E. radiata habitats and conclude that habitat fragmentation can lead to severe disruptions to kelp demography.