The effects of an invasive seaweed on native communities vary along a gradient of land-based human impacts
Bulleri, Fabio, Badalamenti, Fabio, Iveša, Ljiljana, Mikac, Barbara, Musco, Luigi, Jaklin, Andrej, Rattray, Alex, Vega Fernández, Tomas and Benedetti-Cecchi, Lisandro 2016, The effects of an invasive seaweed on native communities vary along a gradient of land-based human impacts, PeerJ, vol. 4, Article number : e1795, pp. 1-17, doi: 10.7717/peerj.1795.
The difficulty in teasing apart the effects of biological invasions from those of otheranthropogenic perturbations has hampered our understanding of the mechanismsunderpinning the global biodiversity crisis. The recent elaboration of global-scalemaps of cumulative human impacts provides a unique opportunity to assess howthe impact of invaders varies among areas exposed to different anthropogenicactivities. A recent meta-analysis has shown that the effects of invasive seaweeds onnative biota tend to be more negative in relatively pristine than in human-impactedenvironments. Here, we tested this hypothesis through the experimental removalof the invasive green seaweed, Caulerpa cylindracea, from rocky reefs across theMediterranean Sea. More specifically, we assessed which out of land-based andsea-based cumulative impact scores was a better predictor of the direction andmagnitude of the effects of this seaweed on extant and recovering native assemblages.Approximately 15 months after the start of the experiment, the removal ofC. cylindracea from extant assemblages enhanced the cover of canopy-formingmacroalgae at relatively pristine sites. This did not, however, result in major changesin total cover or species richness of native assemblages. Preventing C. cylindraceare-invasion of cleared plots at pristine sites promoted the recovery of canopyformingand encrusting macroalgae and hampered that of algal turfs, ultimatelyresulting in increased species richness. These effects weakened progressively withincreasing levels of land-based human impacts and, indeed, shifted in sign at theupper end of the gradient investigated. Thus, at sites exposed to intense disturbancefrom land-based human activities, the removal of C. cylindracea fostered the coverof algal turfs and decreased that of encrusting algae, with no net effect on speciesrichness. Our results suggests that competition from C. cylindracea is an importantdeterminant of benthic assemblage diversity in pristine environments, but less so inspecies-poor assemblages found at sites exposed to intense disturbance from landbasedhuman activities, where either adverse physical factors or lack of propagulesmay constrain the number of potential native colonizers. Implementing measures toreduce the establishment and spread of C. cylindracea in areas little impacted byland-based human activities should be considered a priority for preserving thebiodiversity of Mediterranean shallow rocky reefs.
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