After detachment from benthic habitats, the epibiont assemblages on floating seaweeds undergo substantial changes, but little is known regarding whether succession varies among different seaweed species. Given that floating algae may represent a limiting habitat in many regions, rafting organisms may be unselective and colonize any available seaweed patch at the sea surface. This process may homogenize rafting assemblages on different seaweed species, which our study examined by comparing the assemblages on benthic and floating individuals of the fucoid seaweeds Fucus vesiculosus and Sargassum muticum in the northern Wadden Sea (North Sea). Species richness was about twice as high on S. muticum as on F. vesiculosus, both on benthic and floating individuals. In both seaweed species benthic samplesweremore diverse than floating samples. However, the species composition differed significantly only between benthic thalli, but not between floating thalli of the two seaweed species. Separate analyses of sessile and mobile epibionts showed that the homogenization of rafting assemblages was mainly caused by mobile species. Among these, grazing isopods from the genus Idotea reached extraordinarily high densities on the floating samples from the northernWadden Sea, suggesting that the availability of seaweed rafts was indeed limiting. Enhanced break-up of algal rafts associated with intense feeding by abundant herbivores might force rafters to recolonize benthic habitats. These colonization processes may enhance successful dispersal of rafting organisms and thereby contribute to population connectivity between sink populations in theWadden Sea and source populations from up-current regions.
Helmholtz Research Programs > PACES II (2014-2018) > TOPIC 4: Research in science-stakeholder interactions > WP 4.3: Providing information – enabling knowledge