• Assessing a macroalgal foundation species: community variation with shifting algal assemblages

      Metzger, Jacob Ryan; Konar, Brenda; Edwards, Matthew; Beaudreau, Anne (2018-08)
      Foundation species provide critical food and habitat to their associated communities. Consequently, they are disproportionately important in shaping community structure, promoting greater biodiversity and increased species abundance. In the Aleutian archipelago, once extensive kelp forests are now relatively rare and highly fragmented. This is due to unregulated urchin grazing shifting the majority of nearshore rocky-reefs from kelp forests to either urchin barrens or "transition forests" - kelp forests devoid of understory algae. The algal communities within kelp forests, transition forests, and urchin barrens represent a stepwise loss in fleshy algal guilds, a regression from a full algal community, to having only canopy kelp, to areas largely denuded of all fleshy algae. This stepwise loss of algal guilds was used to test the designation of the resident canopy-forming kelp, Eualaria fistulosa, as a foundation species--a species that has strong, positive effects on communities where it occurs. Therefore, I assessed the impact that E. fistulosa's occurrence had on faunal community structure (in terms of species diversity, abundance and biomass, and percent bottom cover)and invertebrate size-structure. This study found that the presence of E. fistulosa does not correspond to strong differences in invertebrate size-structure or faunal community structure. However, in kelp forests where E. fistulosa exists in tandem with a variety of subcanopy macroalgae, faunal communities are more species rich, have significantly different community structures with notably higher abundance, biomass, and percent cover of filter feeding taxa, and support sea urchin populations containing significantly higher proportions of larger individuals. Consequently, this study stresses the context dependent role of foundation species and suggests their strong, positive effects on associated communities may change with perturbations to ecosystems. To that end, this study suggests that we may need to reconsider the designation of E. fistulosa as a foundation species following the extensive fragmentation and range restriction that has occurred throughout much of the Aleutian Archipelago.
    • Kelp forests and barren grounds: phlorotannin production and holdfast community structure in the Aleutian dragon kelp, Eualaria fistulosa

      Schuster, Martin D.; Konar, Brenda; Iken, Katrin; Coyle, Kenneth (2012-12)
      The canopy forming kelp Eualaria fistulosa inhabits two organizational states throughout the Aleutian archipelago, kelp forests and barren grounds. Urchin abundance and behavior determines which state dominates in any given area. Sporophyll phlorotannin content and holdfast epibiont fauna were investigated at multiple islands along the Aleutian archipelago to determine how the organizational state affects the production of secondary metabolites and the taxon richness, abundance and biomass of holdfast communities. Barren ground sporophylls had higher phlorotannin content than kelp forest sporophylls, although grazing rates on sporophylls from each state did not differ during in situ grazing experiments. The taxon richness, abundance and biomass of holdfast communities were similar between kelp forests and barren grounds at all islands, although these communities varied among islands and were mostly driven by holdfast volume. These results suggest that physical differences such as light and nutrient availability in the kelp forest structure between organizational states may be responsible for differences in phlorotannin content, but that these differences are not reflected in the holdfast community structure. It appears that barren ground holdfast communities are remnants of a once forested area.
    • Spatial trends and environmental drivers of epibenthic shelf community structure across the Aleutian Islands

      Bland, Aaron; Konar, Brenda; Iken, Katrin; Johnson, Mark; Zimmermann, Mark (2018-12)
      The continental shelf around the Aleutian Islands supports important commercial and subsistence fisheries as well as multiple seabird and marine mammal populations. To sustainably manage these populations, more information is needed on the distribution of the benthic communities that support some of the top level consumers. Given the vast size and highly variable physical environment of the Aleutian Islands, it is likely that epibenthic community structure on the continental shelf will vary by geographic area and physical and oceanographic conditions. This project examined spatial patterns in Aleutian epibenthic shelf communities among oceanographic regions (island groups separated by major oceanographic passes) and islands within these regions and identified environmental drivers responsible for important community divisions. Benthic trawls were conducted at 12 Aleutian islands across four oceanographic regions to characterize epibenthic shelf community structure along the island chain. It was tested whether the spatial variability in shelf community structure among regions and islands was correlated to multiple environmental variables including bottom water temperature, water depth, distance from shore, exposure, bottom rugosity, sediment grain size, sediment chlorophyll content, and drift algal food subsidies. Overall, communities differed both among regions and among islands within regions. Communities in the Far Western region (Near Strait to Buldir Strait) differed from communities in other regions, largely due to a high density of sand dollars in the Far West. However, none of the measured environmental characteristics explained this difference. Additionally, there was no evidence for a break in epibenthic shelf community structure across Samalga Pass between the East and the Central regions, even though Samalga represents a biogeographic break for many other Aleutian community types, including zooplankton, fish, and kelp forest communities. Within the Central region, a characteristic soft-sediment community (including the flatfish Atheresthes spp. and the crabs Labidochirus splendescens and Chionoecetes bairdi) distinguished Adak Island from other Central islands. Compared with groundfish trawl surveys conducted by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), this study captured less fish but more invertebrates by biomass, which is likely related to different gear selectivity used by the two studies. These findings provide information on the distribution of Aleutian shelf communities that complement existing information from AFSC surveys. In particular, it is shown that there is potentially an important division in epibenthic shelf communities across Buldir Strait, in agreement with the literature identifying this pass as an important biogeographic break. Furthermore, it is suggested that future assessments of Aleutian epibenthic communities should employ a combination of sampling gear types to better represent various epibenthic taxa.