Structural complexity facilitates accumulation and retention of fragments of the invasive alga, Caulerpa taxifolia
Free-drifting fragments represent an abundant potential source of recruits to the invasive alga, Cauterpa taxifolia. Here we examine how this fragment pool interacts with real and artificial habitat structure in estuarine environments. Specifically, we tested two hypotheses; (i) the fragment pool was unrelated to the structural complexity of Caulerpa beds and, (ii) fragment accumulation and retention was unrelated to canopy height of seagrass meadows. We examined fragment accumulation and retention using artificial seagrass units (ASUs) mimicking seagrasses with long (20 cm) leaves (Posidonia/Zostera) and short (5 cm) leaves (Halophila spp.). Both hypotheses were rejected. Fragment biomass was a positive function of the blade height and cover of Caulerpa taxifolia. ASUs with structure had greater fragment accumulation than controls, but we did not detect differences between ASUs of different canopy heights. However, fragment accumulation within ASUs was strongly affected by site, with the site experiencing the strongest tidal flows accumulating the most fragments. Structurally complex ASUs also retained more fragments relative to the bare control, but the degree of complexity did not affect retention and we could not distinguish between ASUs of different canopy height and the procedural control (metal frame lacking 'leaves'). Overall, we conclude that the entanglement of C taxifolia fragments is facilitated by structurally complex habitat and likely contributes to the successful establishment of this invader. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.