Forgotten underwater forests: The key role of fucoids on Australian temperate reefs

Melinda A. Coleman, Thomas Wernberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Kelp forests dominated by species of Laminariales are globally recognized as key habitats on subtidal temperate rocky reefs. Forests characterized by fucalean seaweed, in contrast, receive relatively less attention despite being abundant, ubiquitous, and ecologically important. Here, we review information on subtidal fucalean taxa of Australia's Great Southern Reef, with a focus on the three most abundant and widely distributed genera (Phyllospora, Scytothalia, and Sargassum) to reveal the functionally unique role of fucoids in temperate reef ecology. Fucalean species span the entire temperate coastline of Australia (~71,000 km2) and play an important role in supporting subtidal temperate biodiversity and economic values on rocky reefs as well as in adjacent habitats. Climatic and anthropogenic stressors have precipitated significant range retractions and declines in many fucoids, with critical implications for associated assemblages. Such losses are persistent and unlikely to be reversed naturally due to the life history of these species and colonization of competitors and grazers following loss. Active restoration is proving successful in bringing back some fucoid species (Phyllospora comosa) lost from urban shores and will complement other passive and active forms of conservation. Fucalean forests play a unique role on subtidal temperate reefs globally, especially in Australia, but are comparatively understudied. Addressing this knowledge gap will be critical for understanding, predicting, and mitigating extant and future loss of these underwater forests and the valuable ecosystem services they support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8406-8418
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


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