African Journal of Marine Science

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Temporal changes in kelp forest benthic communities following an invasion by the rock lobster Jasus lalandii

LK Blamey, GM Branch, KE Reaugh-Flower


The rock lobsterJasus lalandii  expanded its centre of distribution south-eastwards into an area known as ‘East of Cape Hangklip’ on the south-west coast of South Africa in the early 1990s. Using historical and present data, we analysed differences in the abundance of key species and functional groups between the pre- and post-rock lobster invasion periods at two sites along that coast: Cape Hangklip and Betty’s Bay. Pre-1989, lobsters were absent, but after 1995 they reached densities approximating 0.4–0.8 m –2 . Benthic community composition also changed significantly with herbivores being abundant whereas macroalgae and sessile invertebrates were scarce pre-invasion. We attribute the decline of herbivores to the direct effects of lobster predation, in turn indirectly promoting macroalgae. Post-invasion sessile invertebrates and macroalgae increased by 2 600% and 453% respectively, whereas herbivores declined by 99.3%. The virtual elimination of the sea urchin Parechinus angulosus by rock lobsters has substantial implications for the commercial harvesting of the abalone Haliotis midae, because its juveniles are intimately associated with this urchin. The lobster invasion has thus not only led to a regime shift of the ecosystem but has also substantial economic consequences, which calls for an ecosystem approach to the management of the pool of commercially exploited resources in this region.

Keywords: abalone, ecosystem effects of fishing, kelp, predation, range shift, regime shift, urchins

African Journal of Marine Science 2010, 32(3): 481–490
AJOL African Journals Online