Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

A few is enough: a low cover of a non-native seaweed reduces the resilience of Mediterranean macroalgal stands to disturbances of varying extent.

Abstract

There is increasing evidence that the severity of the ecological impact of non-native species does not necessarily scale linearly with their abundance in the introduced range. Nonetheless, the potential of low abundance invaders to alter the resilience of native communities to disturbance has been poorly explored. On Mediterranean rocky reefs, we tested the hypothesis that (1) a pulse disturbance opening gaps within canopy stands formed by the fucoid seaweed Cystoseira brachycarpa facilitates the establishment of the non-native seaweed Caulerpa cylindracea and that (2), once established, the seaweed can reduce the recovery of macroalgal canopies. In July 2011, C. cylindracea was experimentally transplanted in small and large plots that were either cleared of the canopy or left untouched. After 45 months, the cover of C. cylindracea was greatest in small canopy-removal plots, without, however, achieving values exceeding ∼10%. Nonetheless, such a low abundance of C. cylindracea caused a threefold reduction in canopy recovery. The establishment of C. cylindracea in canopy-removal plots did not alter the structure of the understory assemblages or the cover of turf-forming, erect and encrusting algae and sessile invertebrates. Our results suggest that some non-native species may be stronger competitors than natives, despite their low abundance. This property has important implications for control programs since not achieving the total eradication of the targeted invader would make little progress towards the mitigation of its impacts. Finally, our results show that non-native species acting as passengers of change can ultimately promote the persistence of alternative degraded states.