Regional differences in kelp-associated algal assemblages on temperate limestone reefs in south-western Australia
Ecklonia radiata (C. Agardh) J. Agardh kelp beds — a characteristic feature of the nearshore environment along the south-west Australian coastline — contribute significantly to the coastal biodiversity in temperate Australia, yet, little is known about the organization of these macroalgal assemblages.
By compiling existing and new data sets from habitat surveys, we have characterized and compared the structure of kelp-associated macroalgal assemblages in three regions (Marmion Lagoon, Hamelin Bay and the marine environment neighbouring the Fitzgerald River National Park) across more than 1000 kilometres of the south-west Australian coastline.
152 macroalgal taxa had been recognized within the three regions and this is in the range of species richness reported from other Australian and African kelp beds. The kelp-associated algal assemblages were regionally distinct, 66% of all taxa were only found in one region and only 17 taxa were found in all three regions. Adjacent regions shared an additional 13–15 taxa. The regional shifts in assemblage structure were evident in species composition of both canopy and understorey. The organization of assemblages followed a spatial hierarchy where differences in assemblage structure were larger among regions (hundreds of kilometres apart) than among sites within regions (kilometres apart) and differences among sites within region were larger than differences among quadrats within sites (metres apart). Despite this hierarchy each level of nesting contributed approximately the same to total variation in assemblage structure and these spatial patterns were stronger than temporal differences from seasons to 2–3 years. Our results suggest that local and small-scale processes contribute considerably to heterogeneity in macroalgal assemblages throughout south-western Australia, and, in particular, our results are consistent with E. radiata exerting a strong influence on macroalgal assemblage structure. Further, our study contradicts the existence of a general south-west Australian kelp assemblage, although a few species may form the core of E. radiata associations across regions.