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Recruit/algal interaction prevents recovery of overexploited mussel beds: Indirect evidence that post-settlement mortality structures mussel populations
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Systems Ecology.
2011 (English)In: Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, ISSN 0272-7714, E-ISSN 1096-0015, Vol. 92, no 1, 132-139 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The mechanisms maintaining community structure following an ecosystem shift are poorly understood and we propose that they must inherently be biological. Over-exploitation can provide a natural experiment with man as a predator driving a change in community structure, possibly an ecosystem shift. We examined a possible mechanism that maintains algal beds as an alternative state on the east coast of South Africa where the mussel Perna perna has been overexploited. Even on unexploited shores, about 50% of mussel larvae settle onto algae, but it is unclear whether they later recruit into adult beds. On such shores we used two indirect field approaches to understand the fate of recruits, testing whether inhibition of mussel recruitment by macroalgae could constitute a biological mechanism preventing reversion from the algal to the pre-disturbance mussel-dominated state. First, we examined possible ontogenetic migration of recruits from algae to adult mussels, testing the prediction that the ratio large:small recruits in adult beds is greater where algae are liberally interspersed with mussels. Second, we examined whether, like adults, recruits show spatial structure that is related to the distribution of topographic depressions, testing the hypothesis that large and small recruits show different co-variation with depressions, microhabitats where algae commonly occur. We found no evidence that recruits on algae actively move to nearby mussel beds as neither the ratio large:small recruits nor the abundances of small or large recruits showed any relationship with algal cover/variability. Small and large recruits showed different co-variation with topographic depressions on spatially structured transects. Like adults, large recruits commonly exhibited negative relationships with depressions. Thus, large recruits neither occur on algae nor migrate from algae to the primary substratum or onto adult beds. Consequently our results (a) highlight the importance of post-settlement mortality in structuring these mussel populations, and (b) suggest that the interception of larvae by algae forms a biological mechanism that can maintain macroalgal beds that develop following exploitative disturbance by man, thus preventing or at least drastically delaying the natural recovery of mussel beds.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011. Vol. 92, no 1, 132-139 p.
Keyword [en]
algae, alternative stable states, artisanal harvesting, community shift, mussels, ontogenetic migration, over-exploitation, settlement, spatial structure
National Category
Biological Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-69433DOI: 10.1016/j.ecss.2010.12.028ISI: 000289820700014OAI: diva2:478227
authorCount :3Available from: 2012-01-16 Created: 2012-01-12 Last updated: 2012-01-16Bibliographically approved

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