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MEPS 685:85-95 (2022)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13989

Patch dynamics driven by wave exposure in subtidal temperate seaweeds are exacerbated by warming oceans

Yannick Mulders1,2,*, Lydiane Mattio3,4, Julia C. Phillips5, Paul S. Lavery6, Gary A. Kendrick1,2, Thomas Wernberg1,2,7

1UWA Oceans Institute, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
2School of Biological Sciences, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
3Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
4blue[c]weed, 29200 Brest, France
5Water Corporation, Leederville, WA 6007, Australia
6Centre for Marine Ecosystem Research, Edith Cowan University, 270 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, WA 6027, Australia
7Department of Science and Environment, Roskilde University, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Over the past decades, ocean temperatures have been steadily increasing and are projected to continue to do so, stressing many temperate marine organisms. Changing temperatures do not affect ecosystems in isolation, but interact with many other factors in shaping ecological communities. We investigated the changes over 2 decades in subtidal temperate seaweed communities over a wave exposure gradient in Western Australia, a global warming hotspot. We found higher diversity in the seaweed community and a higher proportion of biomass of species with a warm affinity (expressed as the tropicalization index: TI) over time. There was no decline in biomass of the dominant habitat-forming kelp Ecklonia radiata on low wave exposure reefs, while it was patchier and comprised a lower proportion of the total seaweed biomass on the medium and high wave exposure reefs. Furthermore, the presence of E. radiata was disproportionally associated with low abundances of seaweeds with warm affinity. The increasing patchiness of E. radiata likely provided a competitive release for other seaweeds, and the increase in abundance of Scytothalia dorycarpa likely provided a compensatory effect which resulted in a lower than expected TI. We found no indication of an ameliorating effect by wave exposure, and conclude that the patch dynamics driven by wave exposure are more likely exacerbated by increasing ocean temperatures on subtidal temperate reefs. If this continues, the reduction in E. radiata and increase in warm affiliated seaweeds will result in a more diverse seaweed community, but one with a lower standing biomass.


KEY WORDS: Ocean warming · Wave exposure · Rocky reefs · Kelp · Ecklonia radiata


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Cite this article as: Mulders Y, Mattio L, Phillips JC, Lavery PS, Kendrick GA, Wernberg T (2022) Patch dynamics driven by wave exposure in subtidal temperate seaweeds are exacerbated by warming oceans. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 685:85-95. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13989

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