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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Sargassum epifaunal communities vary with canopy size, predator biomass and seascape setting within a fringing coral reef ecosystem

Yi-Yang Chen*, Paul Cooper, Christopher J. Fulton

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Tropical seascapes are comprised of a range of patch habitat types, yet we have only a partial understanding of how local patch condition and seascape position may influence patterns of marine biodiversity, particularly for invertebrate taxa. We investigated how the epifaunal abundance and biomass of tropical Sargassum varied with canopy size (volume, total length, dry weight), local patch conditions (macroalgal composition, canopy structure, invertivorous fish biomass) and seascape setting (nearshore, lagoon, back reef) within the Ningaloo fringing reef ecosystem. A total of 49431 epifauna, dominated by crustaceans and molluscs, were extracted from the thalli of 81 tropical Sargassum individuals. Epifaunal abundance and biomass were most strongly correlated with host Sargassum canopy volume and dry weight, respectively. Epifaunal abundance and biomass also varied significantly among separate Sargassum meadow patches, with a significant interaction between canopy size and seascape position. Considerable site-level variations in epifaunal biomass density (mg per g Sargassum dry weight) were best predicted by either seascape context or local invertivorous fish biomass. Sargassum within meadows furthest from the back reef tended to have the highest epifaunal biomass (dominated by molluscs), while meadows closest to the back reef were dominated by crustacea. Sargassum within meadows with a high local abundance of invertivorous labrids and serranids tended to have the lowest epifaunal biomass. Strong Sargassum canopy size–epifauna relationships indicate even small differences in canopy extent have major flow-on effects for the trophic function of tropical marine ecosystems by affecting the epifaunal secondary productivity available to higher-order consumers such as fishes.