Ecological priming of artificial aquaculture structures: Kelp farms as an example
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Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2018. The continued development of the aquaculture industry is contributing to the proliferation of artificial structures in the marine environment. Observations of seaweed farms (infrastructure and biomass) suggest they act as a habitat for associated species. Seaweed farms differ from other forms of artificial infrastructure as the material deployed already has marine organisms (i.e. culture species) growing on it. This 'priming' of ropes with juvenile sporophytes may affect future development of communities by facilitating colonizing species or suppressing competitors. We call this process 'ecological priming': the provision of a biological platform that influences the successional development of specific communities. The communities that developed on ropes primed with Alaria esculenta individuals were compared with unprimed ropes to assess the ecological priming effect, at a commercial kelp farm in south-west Ireland. Species richness increased over two cultivation seasons and species composition was consistent between years, with distinct communities developing on primed and unprimed treatments. Timing of species occurrence on primed ropes was predictable with no predictable pattern occurring on unprimed ropes. Multivariate tests indicated distinct communities between treatments, with suppression of other algal species and potential facilitation of some species that have a particular association with A. esculenta on primed ropes. Communities from primed holdfasts contained a lower diversity of algal species compared with unprimed communities. Cultivated kelp holdfasts represent a habitat for distinct assemblages that reflect ecological priming of the substratum.
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