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Temporal succession of macrofaunal community associated with kelp fragment accumulations in an in situ experiment

Florian de Bettignies*, Patrick Dauby, Gilles Lepoint, Pascal Riera, Enora Bocher, Olivier Bohner, Caroline Broudin, Céline Houbin, Cédric Leroux, Stéphane Loisel, Dominique Davoult

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A large part of the production of Laminaria hyperborea kelp forests is not directly consumed by grazers, but is exported during storm events or natural annual blade erosion. Drifting kelp fragments are transported and can accumulate temporarily over subtidal benthic habitats. The decay process is particularly slow (>6 months for complete decay during spring-summer) and L. hyperborea fragments are able to maintain their primary production function for several months. If they accumulate in low subtidal habitats, fragments can have a long residence time, thus modifying habitat structure. Based on a six-month cage experiment, we investigated the macrofaunal colonization and community succession within accumulations of L. hyperborea fragments on a low subtidal (-10 m) sandy bottom ecosystem. Stable isotope (C and N) measurements were carried out to describe the structure and development of the trophic foodweb and the role of detritus as food source. Kelp tissues were rapidly and abundantly colonized by macrofauna, and a classical ecological succession occurred, with changes in species dominance and increase in diversity during decay. The foodweb was based on two main sources: particulate organic matter from the water column and decaying kelp tissues. Kelp contributed significantly to the diet of numerous species that are commonly consumed by local predators (fish, shrimp). Following community succession, diets diversified and the food web complexified during the decay process. Our results indicate that drift kelp accumulations structure their associated communities and food web during the whole decay process.