Disturbance and reef topography maintain high local diversity in Ecklonia radiata kelp forests

B.D. Toohey, Gary Kendrick, Euan Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Disturbance of competitive-dominant plant and algae canopies often lead to increased diversity of the assemblage. Kelp forests, particularly those of temperate Western Australia, are habitats with high alpha diversity. This study investigated the roles of broad-scale canopy loss and local scale reef topography on structuring the kelp-dominated macroalgal forests in Western Australia. Eighteen 314 m(2) circular areas were cleared of their Ecklonia radiata canopy and eighteen controls were established across three locations. The patterns of macroalgal recolonisation in replicate clearances were observed over a 34 month period. Macroalgal species richness initially increased after canopy removal with a turf of filamentous and foliose macroalgae dominating cleared areas for up to seven months. A dense Sargassum canopy dominated cleared areas from 11 to 22 months. By 34 months, partial recovery of the kelp canopy into cleared areas had occurred. Some cleared areas did not follow this trajectory but remained dominated by turfing, foliose and filamentous algae. As kelp canopies developed, the initial high species diversity declined but still remained elevated relative to undisturbed controls, even after 34 months. More complex reef topography was associated with greater variability in the algal assemblage between replicate quadrats suggesting colonising algae had a greater choice of microhabitats available to them on topographically complex reefs. Shading by canopies of either Sargassum spp. and E. radiata are proposed to highly influence the abundance of algae through competitive exclusion that is relaxed by disturbance of the canopy. Disturbance of the canopy in E. radiata kelp forests created a mosaic of different patch types (turf, Sargassum-dominated, kelp-dominated). These patch types were both transient and stable over the 34 months of this study, and are a potential contemporary process that maintains high species diversity in temperate kelp-dominated reefs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1618-1630
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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