Eutrophication and species introductions have resulted in increased macroalgal biomass in coastal ecosystems around the globe. Macroalgal mats may compete with microphytobenthos (MPB) for light and nutrients and, due to their position in the canopy, have a negative impact on MPB biomass. We tested this effect by conducting a meta-analysis of prior experiments, as well as a comparative survey, and a macroalgal-removal manipulation in the coastal lagoons of the Virginia Coastal Reserve (VCR) on the eastern shore of Virginia (USA). In all cases, MPB biomass was estimated using benthic chlorophyll as a proxy. While prior individual studies documented impacts of macroalgae, when effect sizes were averaged across studies, there was no consistent effect of macroalgal biomass on MPB biomass. In the VCR, a non-native red macroalga, Gracilaria vermiculophylla, dominates intertidal mats and attains high biomasses at some sites. Nevertheless, MPB biomass was unrelated to macroalgal mass based on a survey of mudflats. Further, when macroalgae were experimentally manipulated on a mudflat using a before and after impact design, there was no change in MPB. Based on the meta-analysis, survey, and manipulation we conducted, macroalgal mats do not have a generalizable effect on MPB, interactions seem context-dependent, and in the VCR, the effects on MPB appear neutral. This finding is important given the significance of MPB in supporting food webs and other estuarine ecosystem functions, as well as the increasing frequency and intensity of macroalgal blooms.
Estuaries and Coasts – Springer Journals
Published: May 30, 2018
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