Canopy facilitates seaweed recruitment on subtidal temperate reefs

S. Bennett, Thomas Wernberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


1. Facilitation through physical stress amelioration has been largely overlooked in subtidal marine ecosystems, where abiotic gradients are perceived to be benign. However, seemingly subtle changes in marine environmental conditions can alter comm unity structure across vast areas, and therefore,the type of interactions and any refuge provided by marine foundation species. This could have substantial implications for community organization.
2. We measured net recruitment rates of subtidal seaweeds under experimentally modified canopy densities, across 1000 km of coastline, to examine the nature of interactions between seaweed canopies and recruits.
3. Contrary to expectations, facilitation, as evidenced by higher recruitment under canopies, was observed throughout all conditions for Scytothalia dorycarpa and under partial canopies at three off our locations for Sargassum spp., whilst competitive interactions remained prevalent for Sargassum under closed canopies.
4. Supply side dynamics were also of major importance to recruitment success for Scytothalia. For Sargassum, the interaction strength between recruits and the canopy became increasingly positive towards lower latitudes, suggesting the canopy environment was mitigating stress across the latitudinal climate gradient.
5. Synthesis. Positive interactions and stress amelioration play an important and previously unrecognized role in determining the recruitment success and viability of seaweeds in subtidal marine eco-systems. These results challenge long held paradigms about the general importance of canopy competition and force a rethink of how seaweed interactions affect habitat resilience to disturbances in subtidal ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1462 - 1470
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


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