Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2007-02


Effects of small-scale disturbance on invasion success in marine communities.




Altman, S; Whitlatch, RB


Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 342(1):15-29




Introductions of non-indigenous species have resulted in many ecological problems including the reduction of biodiversity, decline of commercially important species and alteration of ecosystems. The link between disturbance and invasion potential has rarely been studied in the marine environment where dominance hierarchies, dynamics of larval supply, and resource acquisition may differ greatly from terrestrial systems. In this study, hard substrate marine communities in Long Island Sound, USA were used to assess the effect of disturbance on resident species and recent invaders, ascidian growth form (i.e. colonial and solitary growth form), and the dominant species-specific responses within the community. Community age was an additional factor considered through manipulation of 5-wk old assemblages and 1-yr old assemblages. Disturbance treatments, exposing primary substrate, were characterized by frequency (single, biweekly, monthly) and magnitude (20%, 48%, 80%) of disturbance. In communities of different ages, disturbance frequency had a significant positive effect on space occupation of recent invaders and a significant negative effect on resident species. In the 5-wk community, magnitude of disturbance also had a significant effect. Disturbance also had a significant effect on ascidian growth form; colonial species occupied more primary space than controls in response to increased disturbance frequency and magnitude. In contrast, solitary species occupied significantly less space than controls. Species-specific responses were similar regardless of community age. The non-native colonial ascidian Diplosoma listerianum responded positively to increased disturbance frequency and magnitude, and occupied more primary space in treatments than in controls. The resident solitary ascidian Molgula manhattensis responded negatively to increased disturbance frequency and magnitude, and occupied less primary space in treatments than in controls. Small-scale biological disturbances, by creating space, may facilitate the success of invasive species and colonial organisms in the development of subtidal hard substrate communities.

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