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Aquaculture Environment Interactions

    AEI prepress abstract   -  DOI:

    Artificial habitat and biofouling species distributions in an aquaculture seascape

    J. Atalah*, L. M. Fletcher, I. C. Davidson, P. M. South, B. M. Forrest

    *Corresponding author:

    ABSTRACT: The global proliferation of marine artificial habitats is rapidly altering the physical structure of coastlines, with knock on effects on physical, chemical, and ecological processes at seascape scales. Ecological consequences of the introduction of maritime sprawl associated with aquaculture are poorly understood, despite the fact that these suspended structures are particularly prone to biofouling that can affect the industry and seascape around it. We characterised seascape-scale spatial and temporal distributional patterns of 10 biofouling taxa in relation to the presence and distance to Perna canaliculus mussel farms in New Zealand’s largest aquaculture region. Seven out of 10 taxa had significantly higher cover on farms compared to natural habitats throughout the region. The cover of 4 of those 7 taxa exponentially decreased with distance from the nearest farm, including the high profile pests Mytilus galloprovincialis and Undaria pinnatifida, while some taxa were absent from natural habitats (e.g. the ascidian Ciona robusta). By contrast, several opportunistic macroalgal species, such as Cladophora ruchingeri and Pylaiella littoralis, had colonised extensive areas of natural habitat. Our results suggest that biofouling is a persistent issue on mussel farms and that farm structures may act as reservoirs or ‘stepping-stones’ for the dispersal of potential marine pests. These distributional and dispersal patterns can inform integrated pest management efforts focusing on spatial management strategies, such as ‘firebreaks’ in farm connectivity, avoidance of pest hotspots, and farm fallowing.