Assessing the ecosystem effects of the abalone Haliotis midae from its diet and foraging behaviour
AbstractThe South African abalone Haliotis midae is commercially exploited and seriously threatened by overfishing. This not only affects the species itself but potentially the functioning of the ecosystem because of associated changes in community structure. The nature of effects that can follow the loss or reduction of a species depends in part on its position in the foodweb and its feeding behaviour. To assess the ecosystem effects of the adults and subadults of this previously abundant herbivore on the south-west coast of South Africa, we studied their diet and mode of food procurement by (a) in-field observations of adult and subadult abalone, (b) analysis of the gut contents of adults, (c) comparison of diet with the availability of algae, and (d) a mesocosm experiment on subadult feeding behaviour. Both field and dietary studies showed that adults subsist mainly by trapping drift kelp, but also occasionally graze on attached algae such as Plocamium spp., and feed in a manner that is highly selective, with drift kelp constituting 95–98% of the diet, and several species of common algae being avoided. In the mesocosm experiment, subadults preferentially fed on drift kelp, but emerged at night to a greater extent to graze on microflora if no drift material was available. Their propensity to emerge was, however, reduced if the rock lobster Jasus lalandii was present. Collectively, this evidence indicates that any ecosystem effects that subadults and adults of H. midae have as grazers will be weak because they feed mainly by trapping drift material, and the frequency of grazing and the incidence of consumption of attached algae are low.
Keywords: dietary preferences, drift feeding, ecosystem effects of fishing, grazing, Jasus lalandii, kelp, rock lobster
African Journal of Marine Science 2012, 34(2): 205–214