Marine Biology

, 166:156 | Cite as

Assessing a macroalgal foundation species: community variation with shifting algal assemblages

  • Jacob R. MetzgerEmail author
  • Brenda Konar
  • Matthew S. Edwards
Original Paper


Foundation species have strong, positive effects on local community structure; increasing biodiversity and species abundances by providing food and habitat. On coastal temperate and subpolar rocky reefs, canopy-forming kelps form three-dimensional habitats that support numerous fish, invertebrate, and algal species. Throughout the Aleutian Archipelago, unregulated sea urchin grazing has largely removed the foundation canopy-forming kelp, Eualaria fistulosa, and most subcanopy algae. Consequently, most nearshore rocky reefs have shifted from kelp to sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus spp.) dominated habitats. These latter habitats are either urchin barrens devoid of all fleshy macroalgae, or transition forests devoid of all fleshy macroalgae algae but E. fistulosa. These three distinct communities (kelp and transition forests, and urchin barrens) were used to test the influence of E. fistulosa and sea urchins on the associated communities. Contrary to initial expectations, in transition forest habitats where E. fistulosa is the lone macroalga, no differences in community structure or in the size structure of benthic invertebrates were seen relative to urchin barrens. In kelp forests, where E. fistulosa coexisted with subcanopy macroalgae and urchins were less abundant, faunal communities were more species rich with higher abundance, biomass, and percent cover of numerous filter feeders. These findings stress not only the strong negative impact which urchins can exert on the kelp forest communities, but also the context-dependent nature of foundation species.



This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (Award Number: 1435205).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This study did use animals in the research protocols. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted (University of Alaska Fairbanks Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee; Permit Number: 899401-4). For vertebrate animals, only field observations were conducted. For invertebrate collections, organisms were held in live tank prior to sampling and processed as expeditiously as possible before replacement to their home habitats. This study did not use human participants; therefore, informed consent was not applicable.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

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