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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 643:49-61 (2020)  -  DOI:

Effects of novel, non-native detritus on decomposition and invertebrate community assemblage

Linsey E. Haram1,3,*, Erik E. Sotka2, James E. Byers1

1Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30606, USA
2Grice Marine Laboratory, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina 29412, USA
3Present address: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: When non-native primary producers become successful, the structure and function of native detrital food webs can be fundamentally altered. Salt marsh estuaries of the southeastern USA are in part detritus-based ecosystems and rely on the annual production of detritus from a single native species, the smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. Over the last several decades, the success of a novel primary producer, the red macroalga Agarophyton vermiculophyllum (formerly Gracilaria vermiculophylla), in a system historically devoid of macroalgae provides the opportunity to measure the effect of non-native basal resources on native detrital pathways. We conducted 2 in situ experiments to compare (1) decomposition rates of A. vermiculophyllum and S. alterniflora and (2) invertebrate colonization rates onto dead A. vermiculophyllum and S. alterniflora. Relative to S. alterniflora, we found that A. vermiculophyllum decomposes more rapidly, losing 80% or more of its biomass within 3 wk, while S. alterniflora lost ~50%. Experimental litterbags with decomposed A. vermiculophyllum and S. alterniflora harbored similar highly abundant invertebrate communities that differed greatly from denuded areas. Our results demonstrate that A. vermiculophyllum provides a complementary source of labile organic matter relative to S. alterniflora, boosting the amount of food and available habitat for small invertebrates of intertidal salt marshes and mudflats. Thus, non-native macrophytes may differentially affect community and ecosystem properties just as much when dead as alive, especially when they are biologically distinct from native species.

KEY WORDS: Seaweeds · Non-native species · Salt marsh · Decomposition · Community composition

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Cite this article as: Haram LE, Sotka EE, Byers JE (2020) Effects of novel, non-native detritus on decomposition and invertebrate community assemblage. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 643:49-61.

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