Foundation species define the ecosystems they live in, but ecologists have often characterized dominant plants as foundational without supporting evidence. Giant kelp has long been considered a marine foundation species due to its complex structure and high productivity; however, there is little quantitative evidence to evaluate this. Here, we apply structural equation modelling to a 15-year time series of reef community data to evaluate how giant kelp affects the reef community. Although species richness was positively associated with giant kelp biomass, most direct paths did not involve giant kelp. Instead, the foundational qualities of giant kelp were driven mostly by indirect effects attributed to its dominant physical structure and associated engineering influence on the ecosystem, rather than by its use as food by invertebrates and fishes. Giant kelp structure has indirect effects because it shades out understorey algae that compete with sessile invertebrates. When released from competition, sessile species in turn increase the diversity of mobile predators. Sea urchin grazing effects could have been misinterpreted as kelp effects, because sea urchins can overgraze giant kelp, understorey algae and sessile invertebrates alike. Our results confirm the high diversity and biomass associated with kelp forests, but highlight how species interactions and habitat attributes can be misconstrued as direct consequences of a foundation species like giant kelp.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) can be defined as the DNA pool recovered from an environmental sample that includes both extracellular and intracellular DNA. There has been a significant increase in the number of recent studies that have demonstrated the possibility to detect macroorganisms using eDNA. Despite the enormous potential of eDNA to serve as a biomonitoring and conservation tool in aquatic systems, there remain some important limitations concerning its application. One significant factor is the variable persistence of eDNA over natural environmental gradients, which imposes a critical constraint on the temporal and spatial scales of species detection. In the present study, a radiotracer bioassay approach was used to quantify the kinetic parameters of dissolved eDNA (d-eDNA), a component of extracellular DNA, over an annual cycle in the coastal Northwest Mediterranean. Significant seasonal variability in the biological uptake and turnover of d-eDNA was observed, the latter ranging from several hours to over one month. Maximum uptake rates of d-eDNA occurred in summer during a period of intense phosphate limitation (turnover <5 hrs). Corresponding increases in bacterial production and uptake of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) demonstrated the microbial utilization of d-eDNA as an organic phosphorus substrate. Higher temperatures during summer may amplify this effect through a general enhancement of microbial metabolism. A partial least squares regression (PLSR) model was able to reproduce the seasonal cycle in d-eDNA persistence and explained 60% of the variance in the observations. Rapid phosphate turnover and low concentrations of bioavailable phosphate, both indicative of phosphate limitation, were the most important parameters in the model. Abiotic factors such as pH, salinity and oxygen exerted minimal influence. The present study demonstrates significant seasonal variability in the persistence of d-eDNA in a natural marine environment that can be linked to the metabolic response of microbial communities to nutrient limitation. Future studies should consider the effect of natural environmental gradients on the seasonal persistence of eDNA, which will be of particular relevance for time-series biomonitoring programs.
The Canterbury earthquakes resulted in numerous changes to the waterways of Ōtautahi Christchurch. These included bank destabilisation, liquefaction effects, changes in bed levels, and associated effects on flow regimes and inundation levels. This study set out to determine if these effects had altered the location and pattern of sites utilised by inanga (Galaxias maculatus) for spawning, which are typically restricted to very specific locations in upper estuarine areas.
Extensive surveys were carried out in the Heathcote/Ōpāwaho and Avon/Ōtākaro catchments over the four peak months of the 2015 spawning season. New spawning sites were found in both rivers and analysis against pre-earthquake records identified that other significant changes have occurred.
Major changes include the finding of many new spawning sites in the Heathcote/Ōpāwaho catchment. Sites now occur up to 1.5km further downstream than the previously reported limit and include the first records of spawning below the Woolston Cut. Spawning sites in the Avon/Ōtākaro catchment also occur in new locations. In the mainstem, sites now occur both upstream and downstream of all previously reported locations. A concentrated area of spawning was identified in Lake Kate Sheppard at a distinctly different location versus pre-quake records, and no spawning was found on the western shores. Spawning was also recorded for the first time in Anzac Creek, a nearby waterway connected to Lake Kate Sheppard via a series of culverts. Overall the results indicate that spawning is taking place in different locations from the pre-quake pattern. Although egg survival was not measured in this study, sites in new locations may be vulnerable to current or future land-use activities that are incompatible with spawning success. Consequently, there are considerable management implications associated with this spatial shift, primarily relating to riparian management. In particular, there is a need to control threats to spawning sites and achieve protection for the areas involved. This is required under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 and is a prominent objective in a range of other policies and plans.mainstem, sites now occur both upstream and downstream of all previously reported locations. A concentrated area of spawning was identified in Lake Kate Sheppard at a distinctly different location versus pre-quake records, and no spawning was found on the western shores. Spawning was also recorded for the first time in Anzac Creek, a nearby waterway connected to Lake Kate Sheppard via a series of culverts.
Overall the results indicate that spawning is taking place in different locations from the pre-quake pattern. Although egg survival was not measured in this study, sites in new locations may be vulnerable to current or future land-use activities that are incompatible with spawning success. Consequently, there are considerable management implications associated with this spatial shift, primarily relating to riparian management. In particular, there is a need to control threats to spawning sites and achieve protection for the areas involved. This is required under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 and is a prominent objective in a range of other policies and plans.
Size generally dictates metabolic requirements, trophic level, and consequently, ecosystem structure, where inefficient energy transfer leads to bottom-heavy ecosystem structure and biomass decreases as individual size (or trophic level) increases. However, many animals deviate from simple size-based predictions by either adopting generalist predatory behavior, or feeding lower in the trophic web than predicted from their size. Here we show that generalist predatory behavior and lower trophic feeding at large body size increase overall biomass and shift ecosystems from a bottom-heavy pyramid to a top-heavy hourglass shape, with the most biomass accounted for by the largest animals. These effects could be especially dramatic in the ocean, where primary producers are the smallest components of the ecosystem. This approach makes it possible to explore and predict, in the past and in the future, the structure of ocean ecosystems without biomass extraction and other impacts.
In rocky intertidal habitats, abiotic stress due to desiccation and thermal extremes increases with elevation because of tides. A study in Atlantic Canada showed that, at low elevations where conditions are benign due to the brief low tides, fucoid algal canopies (Ascophyllum nodosum and Fucus spp.) do not affect the structure of benthic communities. However, at middle and high elevations, where low tides last longer, fucoid canopies limit abiotic extremes and increase the richness (number of invertebrate and algal species, except fucoids) of benthic communities. Using the data from that study, this paper compares the intensity of facilitation and its importance (relative to all other sources of variation in richness) between middle and high elevations, which represent intermediate and high stress, respectively. Facilitation intensity was calculated as the percent increase in benthic richness between quadrats with low and high canopy cover, while the importance of facilitation was calculated as the percentage of variation in richness explained by canopy cover. Data for 689 quadrats spanning 350 km of coastline were used. Both the intensity and importance of facilitation were greater at middle elevations than at high elevations. As canopies do not affect benthic communities at low elevations, this study suggests that the facilitation-stress relationship at the community level is unimodal for this marine system. Such a pattern was found for some terrestrial systems dominated by canopy-forming plants. Thus, it might be ubiquitous in nature and, as further studies refine it, it might help to predict community-level facilitation depending on environmental stress.
Recruitment is a key demographic process for population persistence. This paper focuses on barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides) recruitment. In rocky intertidal habitats from the Gulf of St. Lawrence coast of Nova Scotia (Canada), ice scour is common during the winter. At the onset of intertidal barnacle recruitment in early May (after sea ice has fully melted), mostly only adult barnacles and bare substrate are visible at high elevations in wave-exposed habitats. We conducted a multiannual study to investigate if small-scale barnacle recruitment could be predicted from the density of pre-existing adult barnacles. In a year that exhibited a wide adult density range (ca. 0–130 individuals dm−2), the relationship between adult density and recruit density (scaled to the available area for recruitment, which excluded adult barnacles) was unimodal. In years that exhibited a lower adult density range (ca. 0–40/50 individuals dm−2), the relationship between adult and recruit density was positive and resembled the lower half of the unimodal relationship. Overall, adult barnacle density was able to explain 26–40% of the observed variation in recruit density. The unimodal adult–recruit relationship is consistent with previously documented intraspecific interactions. Between low and intermediate adult densities, the positive nature of the relationship relates to the previously documented fact that settlement-seeking larvae are chemically and visually attracted to adults, which might be important for local population persistence. Between intermediate and high adult densities, where population persistence may be less compromised and the abundant adults may limit recruit growth and survival, the negative nature of the relationship suggests that adult barnacles at increasingly high densities stimulate larvae to settle elsewhere. The unimodal pattern may be especially common on shores with moderate rates of larval supply to the shore, because high rates of larval supply may swamp the coast with settlers, decoupling recruit density from local adult abundance.
On the Gulf of St. Lawrence coast of Nova Scotia (Canada), recruitment of the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides occurs in May and June. Every year in June between 2005 and 2016, we recorded recruit density for this barnacle at the same wave-exposed rocky intertidal location on this coast. During these 12 years, mean recruit density was lowest in 2015 (198 recruits dm−2) and highest in 2007 (969 recruits dm−2). The highest recruit density observed in a single quadrat was 1,457 recruits dm−2 (in 2011) and the lowest was 34 recruits dm−2 (in 2015). Most barnacle recruits appear during May, which suggests that most pelagic larvae (which develop over 5–6 weeks before benthic settlement) are in the water column in April. An AICc-based model selection approach identified sea surface temperature (SST) in April and the abundance of phytoplankton (food for barnacle larvae, measured as chlorophyll-a concentration –Chl-a–) in April as good explanatory variables. Together, April SST and April Chl-a explained 51% of the observed interannual variation in recruit density, with an overall positive influence. April SST was positively related to March–April air temperature (AT). April Chl-a was negatively related to the April ratio between the number of days with onshore winds (which blow from phytoplankton-limited offshore waters) and the number of days with alongshore winds (phytoplankton is more abundant on coastal waters). Therefore, this study suggests that climatic processes affecting April SST and April Chl-a indirectly influence intertidal barnacle recruitment by influencing larval performance.
Coral reefs are among Earth’s best-studied ecosystems, yet the degree to which large predators influence the ecology of coral reefs remains an open and contentious question. Recent studies indicate the consumptive effects of large reef predators are too diffuse to elicit trophic cascades. Here, we provide evidence that such predators can produce non-consumptive (fear) effects that flow through herbivores to shape the distribution of seaweed on a coral reef. This trophic cascade emerged because reef topography, tidal oscillations, and shark hunting behaviour interact to create predictable “hot spots” of fear on the reef where herbivores withhold feeding and seaweeds gain a spatial refuge. Thus, in risky habitats, sharks can exert strong ecological impacts even though they are trophic generalists that rarely feed. These findings contextualize the debate over whether predators influence coral reef structure and function and move us to ask not if, but under what specific conditions, they generate trophic cascades.
The abyssal ocean is broadly characterized by northward flow of the densest waters and southward flow of less-dense waters above them. Understanding what controls the strength and structure of these interhemispheric flows—referred to as the abyssal overturning circulation—is key to quantifying the ocean’s ability to store carbon and heat on timescales exceeding a century. Here we show that, north of 32° S, the depth distribution of the seafloor compels dense southern-origin waters to flow northward below a depth of about 4 kilometres and to return southward predominantly at depths greater than 2.5 kilometres. Unless ventilated from the north, the overlying mid-depths (1 to 2.5 kilometres deep) host comparatively weak mean meridional flow. Backed by analysis of historical radiocarbon measurements, the findings imply that the geometry of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic basins places a major external constraint on the overturning structure.
Nutrient limitation of oceanic primary production exerts a fundamental control on marine food webs and the flux of carbon into the deep ocean1. The extensive boundaries of the oligotrophic sub-tropical gyres collectively define the most extreme transition in ocean productivity, but little is known about nutrient limitation in these zones1,2,3,4. Here we present the results of full-factorial nutrient amendment experiments conducted at the eastern boundary of the South Atlantic gyre. We find extensive regions in which the addition of nitrogen or iron individually resulted in no significant phytoplankton growth over 48 hours. However, the addition of both nitrogen and iron increased concentrations of chlorophyll a by up to approximately 40-fold, led to diatom proliferation, and reduced community diversity. Once nitrogen–iron co-limitation had been alleviated, the addition of cobalt or cobalt-containing vitamin B12 could further enhance chlorophyll a yields by up to threefold. Our results suggest that nitrogen–iron co-limitation is pervasive in the ocean, with other micronutrients also approaching co-deficiency. Such multi-nutrient limitations potentially increase phytoplankton community diversity.