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Kira Krumhansl

Detrital Production in Kelp Beds

Kira Krumhansl
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Robert Scheibling

Biology, Dalhousie University

2008 - 2012

Ecosystem Function, EF-11: Ecosystem phase shifts

Detrital subsidy from highly productive kelp beds and forests to adjacent habitats represents a major form of connectivity between coastal ecosystems that regulates regional patterns of community organization and production. In this thesis, I investigated environmental and biological factors that influence the rate of detrital production in Nova Scotian kelp beds, with emphasis on the role of invasive species in altering these dynamics. The rate of blade erosion of the dominant kelp species (Saccharina latissima and Laminaria digitata) increased significantly with the level of encrustation by the invasive bryozoan Membranipora membranacea and the extent of grazing damage by the native snail Lacuna vincta, and by increased water temperature and site exposure. The rate of detrital production (as dry mass) ranged from 0.5 to 1.71 kg m-2 y-1 across 5 sites, and increased linearly with kelp bed biomass. Spatial variation in the total level of grazing damage on kelp blades by L. vincta was explained in part by a negative relationship with site exposure, and the distribution of grazing along blades was regulated by kelp growth rate and the associated production of grazing-deterrent polyphenolics. Grazing damage by L. vincta that exceeded 0.5 to 1.0% of blade area caused increased rates of erosion during heavy wave action associated with a passing hurricane. The maximum stress before breakage, toughness, and extensibility of blade tissues decreased with the degree of encrustation by M. membranacea or grazing damage by L. vincta, which cause degradation and removal of the outer cell layers of kelp tissues, resulting in stress concentration and breakage at lower force applications than required to break undamaged tissues. The invasive green alga Codium fragile and S. latissima differed with respect to nutritional quality and changes in biochemical composition that occurred over the course of degradation on a sandy bottom adjacent to a kelp bed. Macrofaunal communities colonizing detrital deposits responded to these differences. These findings demonstrate that invasive species can alter the quantity and quality of detritus produced from subtidal kelp beds, and that their community-level effects can extend well beyond the invaded habitats via the export of detritus.

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