Diatoms associated with two South African kelp species: Ecklonia maxima and Laminaria pallida
Kelp forests are believed to host a large biomass of epiphytic fauna and flora, including diatoms, which constitute the base of aquatic food webs and play an important role in the transfer of energy to higher trophic levels. Epiphytic diatom assemblages associated with two common species of South African kelps, Ecklonia maxima and Laminaria pallida, were investigated in this study. Primary blades of adult and juvenile thalli of both kelp species were sampled at False Bay in July 2017 and analysed using scanning electron microscopy. Our findings showed that both kelp species hosted relatively low densities of diatoms (ranging from 7 [SD 5] cells mm–2 on adult specimens of L. pallida to 43 [SD 66] cells mm–2 on blades of juvenile E. maxima), with Amphora and Gomphoseptatum reaching the highest absolute abundances. Although non-metric multidimensional scaling showed overlapping and largely scattered sample sets, a significant relationship between the diatom communities and the species and age of the host macroalga was detected by two-way PERMANOVA. In general, more abundant and diverse diatom communities were observed on juvenile thalli than on adult thalli, with species belonging to Navicula and Rhoicosphenia contributing significantly to the observed dissimilarity. Due to a significant interaction between species and age effects, however, the overall ability of kelp species, their age, and their interaction to explain the variation in diatom community structure was limited. We suggest that the low densities of epiphytic diatoms were directly related to the sloughing of epithelial cells observed in both kelp species. We further speculate that on such unstable substrata some diatom taxa might adapt to an endophytic life to avoid the antifouling mechanisms developed by their hosts.
Keywords: Bacillariophyceae, diatom abundance, endophytic diatoms, epiphytes, False Bay, macroalgae, Phaeophyceae, seaweeds