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Type: Thesis
Title: Declining water quality as a driver of changes to subtidal communities.
Author: Gorman, Daniel
Issue Date: 2009
School/Discipline: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences : Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Abstract: This body of work examines the influence of land use on nearshore water quality, and how this can drive changes to algal and invertebrate communities along Australia's southern coastline. The overall aim of the thesis was to investigate links between increasing coastal water-column nitrogen concentrations (derived from terrestrial inputs) and the expansion of turf-forming habitats that can alter the structure and function of subtidal ecosystems. I initially tested whether human activities in coastal catchments can increase subsidies of nitrogen to open rocky coasts. I identified landscape-scale variation in the supply of Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen (DIN) to coastal waters adjacent to natural, agricultural and urban catchments. Compared to natural catchments, subsidies of DIN were 8 - 407 times greater in urban catchments, and 1 - 63 times greater in agricultural catchments. Subsidies of nitrogen from urban catchments were attributed to the release of sewage effluent, as delineated by δ¹ ⁵N isotopic values of transplanted algae. Having made this link, I then assessed whether catchment-scale variation in nitrogen subsidies may predict patterns of subtidal habitat structure, particularly as related to theories of regime shifts from forested landscapes to structurally depauperate turf-forming habitats. I validated this hypothesis, demonstrating that both relative covers and patch-sizes of turfed habitat were greater where the ratio of terrestrial nitrogen inputs to ambient coastal resources was large. An important realisation was that loss of forests may be more strongly related to the size of subsidy (i.e. the relative increases in water column nitrogen concentrations along urban coasts) rather than the size of coastal populations. Together, these data link coastal development with modified land-to-sea subsidies, and indirectly support the model that ecological effects may be proportional to the disparity between donor and recipient resources. Having demonstrated a link between nitrogen subsidies and subtidal habitat change, I then investigated factors likely to initiate and maintain such shifts. My results demonstrate that nutrient elevation can alter the natural phenology of turfs, sustaining dense covers throughout periods of natural senescence (winter). Perennial turf covers are able to accumulate large volumes of sediment; a synergy can impede the winter recruitment of canopy-forming species (kelps and fucoid algae). My observations of reduced forest recovery along urban coasts serve to highlight the complex interaction between elevated nutrients, persistent turf covers and increased sediment accumulation, which can reduce the resilience of coastal ecosystems to disturbance. In recognition that regime shifts are likely to have consequences for higher trophic levels, I compared the diet of invertebrate herbivores from healthy and degraded coastlines using stable isotope analysis (δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N). Dietary modelling showed that turfs contributed more to the diet of consumers along degraded coastlines where turfed landscapes have replaced extensive covers of macroalgal forest. Additionally, there were strong correlations between covers of turfed habitat, herbivore diet and relative densities. Changes to ambient food quality associated with regime shift may be an important aspect of nutrient-driven change along human-dominated coastlines. The final component of my thesis redressed some of the uncertainty about restoration initiatives for urban coasts by demonstrating that regime shifts are not necessarily permanent. I showed that turf removal can facilitate the recovery of degraded forests. Future restoration, therefore, is a possible outcome of polices that aim to decouple the link between nutrient inputs and recalcitrant turfed habitats that prevent forest recovery. Initiatives that reduce nutrient discharge to coastal waters (e.g., wastewater recycling) are likely to restore the resilience of nearshore marine ecosystems and promote their rehabilitation.
Advisor: Connell, Sean Duncan
Gillanders, Bronwyn
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, 2009
Subject: Marine ecology Australia.
Aquatic ecology Australia.
Provenance: Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text.
Appears in Collections:Environment Institute Leaders publications
Research Theses

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