Epibiont communities on stranded kelp rafts of Durvillaea antarctica (Fucales, Phaeophyceae)—Do positive interactions facilitate range extensions?
López, Boris A.
Macaya, Erasmo C.
Rivadeneira, Marcelo M.
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Aim: This study examines how rafting on floating bull kelps can shape the biogeographic patterns of raft-associated species, and analyses the spatio-temporal variability of taxonomic richness and co-occurrences of epibionts on beach-cast rafts of Durvillaea antarctica along a latitudinal gradient. Location: Southeast Pacific, along ~1,700 km of coastline. Methods: We examined the epibionts on stranded individuals of D. antarctica on 33 beaches along the continental coast of Chile (28° S–42° S) within four biogeographic districts during the winter and summer of two years (2014/2015–2015/2016). Taxonomic richness and co-occurrences of epibionts within a holdfast were examined. Known geographic ranges and rafting ranges were compared to determine possible range expansions via rafting dispersal. Results: Sessile species were the most frequent epibionts. Taxonomic richness varied among biogeographic zones and seasons, and was higher between 33° S and 42° S than between 28° S and 33° S, particularly in summer compared to winter. Taxonomic richness decreased with floating time (indicated by the presence and size of Lepas spp.). Habitat-forming epibionts such as mytilid mussels, the polychaete Phragmatopoma moerchi and the seaweeds Gelidium lingulatum and Lessonia spicata favoured co-occurrences of other species within a holdfast, suggesting a habitat cascade (i.e. biogenic holdfast—sessile eco-engineers—other epibionts), while the boring isopod Limnoria chilensis and the excavating limpet Scurria scurra were negatively correlated with many other species. Some rafting epibiont species with low dispersal ability were found more than 100–300 km outside of their known geographic ranges, with more extensive ephemeral range extensions at the southern edge of their respective ranges, probably facilitated by higher availability of rafts in those areas. Main Conclusions: These findings confirm that raft-associated species are frequently dispersed outside their known geographic ranges, although these range extensions vary strongly depending on the availability and persistence of rafts, and on the biotic interactions within the rafting assemblage.