The invasive kelp Undaria pinnatifida hosts an epifaunal assemblage similar to native seaweeds with comparable morphologies.
Invasive seaweeds have the potential to disrupt ecosystem functioning if they are unsuitable hosts for the small mobile invertebrates (epifauna) that are an important trophic link between benthic primary producers and higher trophic levels. The Asian kelp Undaria pinnatifida has successfully invaded many coastal regions worldwide. We compared the epifaunal assemblage on U. pinnatifida with epifauna of 7 co-occurring, canopy-forming native brown seaweed species in southern New Zealand to help understand the effect of the invasive species on shallow subtidal ecosystems. The density, diversity and composition of epifauna across the 8 seaweeds were much more strongly related to host morphology than to the geographic origin of the host. U. pinnatifida and several native seaweeds with similarly simple morphologies supported relatively depauperate epifaunal assemblages dominated by copepods. More structurally complex native seaweeds supported more abundant and diverse epifaunal assemblages containing lower proportions of copepods and higher proportions of amphipods and other epifaunal groups. Our results indicate that abundances of epifauna at the ecosystem level will be reduced if U. pinnatifida displaces more structurally complex native seaweed species that host more diverse and dense epifaunal assemblages. The findings suggest that morphological complexity may be key to predicting the impacts of invasive seaweeds on epifaunal assemblages, and potentially on food webs, in other geographic regions.