• 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.