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Type: Thesis
Title: The ecology of subtidal turfs in southern Australia.
Author: Russell, Bayden D.
Issue Date: 2005
School/Discipline: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Abstract: Assemblages of algae are altered by both bottom - up ( e.g. nutrient availability ) and top - down ( e.g. herbivory ) processes. As a result of the increasing human population in coastal areas, massive changes are forecast to benthic habitats in response to increasing coastal nutrient concentrations and a reduction in consumers. To identify the scales over which nutrients may have an effect, abundance of turf - forming algae growing as epiphytes on kelp ( Ecklonia radiata ) were related to water nutrient concentration across temperate Australia. In general, the percentage cover of epiphytes was greatest at sites with the greatest nutrient concentrations. By experimentally elevating mean nitrate concentration from the low 0.064 ± 0.01 µmol L [superscript - 1 ] to 0.121 ± 0.04 µmol L [superscript - 1 ], which was still only ~ 5 % of that measured on a more eutrophic coast, I was able to increase the percentage cover of epiphytes to match those seen on nutrient rich coasts, despite not matching the nutrient concentrations on those coasts. Hence, it appears that the effects of elevated nutrients will be disproportionately large on relatively oligotrophic coasts. Nutrient concentrations were also experimentally elevated to test whether the presence of an algal canopy or molluscan grazers were able to counter the effects of nutrient enrichment on algal assemblages. The loss of canopy - forming algae is likely to be a key precursor to nutrient driven changes of benthic habitats, because nutrients had no direct effect on algal assemblages in the presence of canopy - forming algae. In the absence of canopy - forming algae, space was quickly monopolised by turf - forming algae, but in the presence of elevated nutrients grazers were able to reduce the monopoly of turf - forming algae in favour of foliose algae. This switch in relative abundance of habitat may reflect greater consumption of nutrient rich turf - forming algae by grazers, possibly creating more space for other algae to colonise. Importantly, greater consumption of turf - forming algae in the presence of elevated nutrients may act as a mechanism to absorb the disproportionate effect of nutrients on oligotrophic coasts. In southern Australia, canopy - forming algae have a negative impact on the abundance of turf - forming algae. To assess the mechanisms by which an algal canopy may suppress turf - forming algae, abrasion by the canopy and water flow were experimentally reduced. Abrasion by the canopy reduced the percentage cover and biomass of turf - forming algae. In contrast to predictions, biomass and percentage cover of turf - forming algae were also reduced when water flow was reduced. Light intensity was substantially reduced when there was less water flow ( because of reduced movement in algal canopy ). However, the reduction in available light ( shading ) did not account for all of the observed reduction in biomass and percentage cover of turf - forming algae, suggesting that other factors are modified by water flow and may contribute to the loss of turf - forming algae. Habitat loss and fragmentation are well known to affect the diversity and abundance of fauna in habitat patches. I used experimental habitats to assess how fragmentation of turf habitats affects the diversity and abundance of two taxa of macroinvertebrates with different dispersal abilities. I established that increased isolation of habitats reduced the species richness and abundance of invertebrates with slow rates of dispersal, while the species richness and abundance of invertebrates with fast rates of dispersal were greatest in habitats that were far apart. In summary, this thesis provides an insight into some of the impacts associated with human populations in coastal areas, namely increased nutrient inputs, loss of grazers ( e.g. harvesting ), and loss of canopy algae and fragmentation of habitats. I show that increased nutrient concentrations in coastal waters can alter the relative abundance of algal species, and that some effects of elevated nutrients can be absorbed by the presence of grazers. I also show that elevated nutrients have no effect on algal assemblage in the presence of canopy - forming algae, and that canopies can suppress the colonisation of turf - forming algae. Finally, I show that the fragmentation of turf habitats affects taxa of invertebrates with different dispersal abilities in different ways. Whilst the contemporary ecology of much of the temperate Australian subtidal coast is considered to be relatively unaffected by human activity, this thesis shows that changes to top - down and bottom - up processes could have large consequences for habitats and their inhabitants.
Advisor: Gillanders, Bronwyn
Connell, Sean Duncan
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.)--School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, 2005.
Keywords: Marine ecology, marine flora, marine algae, fragmented landscapes
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at
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