In a squeeze: Epibiosis may affect the distribution of kelp forests
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionEcology and Evolution. 2019, 9 (5), 2883-2897. 10.1002/ece3.4967
The processes limiting the population recovery of the kelp Saccharina latissima after recent large‐scale loss from the south coast of Norway are poorly understood. Previous investigations do, however, suggest that the impacts of biotic interactions (epibiosis and competition) and increased water turbidity are important. We investigated the depth‐related patterns of growth, epibiosis, and mortality in two sample populations of kelp, from the south and the southwest coast of Norway. The investigations were performed over a period of seven months, in a crossed translocational study, where kelps were mounted on rigs at six depths (1, 3, 6, 9, 15, and 24 m). In a second experiment, the amounts of light blocked by different epibiont layers growing on the kelp frond were investigated. While growth decreased with depth in spring and summer, the kelp grew faster at 15 m than at shallower depths in fall. Survival was low both in shallow water and below 15 m depth. Epibionts covered the kelp growing at depths from 1 to 9 m, and the laboratory study showed that the coverage may have deprived the individuals of as much as 90% of the available light. Although the depth‐related results we present apply—in the strictest sense—only to kelp translocated on rigs, we argue that the relative patterns are relevant for natural populations. Growth and survival of S. latissima is likely to be reduced by heavy loads of epibionts, while depths where epibionts are sparse may be close to the lower limit of the kelps depth distribution along the south coast of Norway. This suggests that a vertical squeeze, or narrowing of the distribution range of kelp forests may be occurring in Norway.