Kelp forests in False Bay: urchins vs macroalgae in South Africa’s southwest coast biogeographical transition zone
Kelp forests along South Africa’s southwest coast occur in a region of biogeographical overlap. Commonly referred to as transition-zone kelp forests, these dynamic ecosystems are particularly susceptible to grazing from species such as urchins. This study explores relationships between urchins and macroalgae in transition-zone kelp forests along the western side of False Bay. Six kelp forests in this region were sampled. At each site, the urchin Parechinus angulosus and kelp Ecklonia maxima were counted, percentage cover of understorey algae was recorded, and drift algae were collected. Despite variability in urchin and algal cover across sites, kelps generally increased from north to south, while urchins did the opposite. Urchins were negatively associated with macroalgae, although this relationship was weak. A localised threshold of 50 urchins m–2 was identified, above which kelp density failed to increase above 10 m–2 and percentage cover of understorey algae usually remained below 20%. Surprisingly, no relationship was discovered between drift algae and attached algae. The findings highlight the complexity of these cool-water environments. To better understand the role of urchins in this system, particularly under changing climate trends, experimental research into the feeding behaviour and possible effects of urchins on attached algae in the presence/absence of drift algae is advised.
Keywords: drift algae, Ecklonia maxima, grazer, Parechinus angulosus, seaweed, temperate reef