Modeling a Regime Shift in a Kelp Forest Ecosystem Caused by a Lobster Range Expansion
The South African West Coast rock lobster, Jasus lalandii (H. Milne-Edwards, 1837), has expanded its range to the southeast, where its abundance has increased radically. The ecological consequences of this “invasion” are likely to be considerable. We employed a minimally realistic model to simulate the “invasion” and to explore interactions of J. lalandii with the sea urchin, Parechinus angulosus (Leske, 1778), and the abalone, Haliotis midae Linnaeus, 1758, juveniles of which shelter beneath this urchin. Model fits to empirical data were good, although species-interaction terms were difficult to estimate. Base-case trajectories indicated: (1) Lobster biomass peaked at about 1000 t in 1994 and was then reduced by fishing to a stable value approximately 50% lower by 2008. (2) Urchins remained close to carrying capacity in “noninvaded” areas but collapsed to local extinction by 1997 in the invaded area. (3) Abalone declined over 2000–2008 in noninvaded areas because of illegal fishing and collapsed to near zero in the “invaded” area because of illegal fishing combined with increased lobster abundance. Sensitivity analyses favored the hypothesis that the invasion was due to adult immigration rather than larval recruitment. Modeled 50-yr projections indicated that urchins will remain locally extinct in the invaded area, even 50 yrs into the future. The abalone collapse in the invaded area would persist >50 yrs, even if lobsters were absent. We argue that the lobster “invasion” triggered an alternative stable state, making a return to pre-invasion conditions unlikely.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: January 1, 2013
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