The ecology of rafting in the marine environment. II. The rafting organisms and community

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Rafting of marine and terrestrial organisms has been reported from a variety of substrata and from all major oceans of the world. Herein we present information on common rafting organisms and on ecological interactions during rafting voyages. An extensive literature review revealed a total of 1206 organisms, for which rafting was confirmed or inferred based on distributional or genetic evidence. Rafting organisms comprised cyanobacteria, algae, protists, invertebrates from most marine but also terrestrial phyla, and even a few terrestrial vertebrates. Marine hydrozoans, bryozoans, crustaceans and gastropods were the most common taxa that had been observed rafting. All major feeding types were represented among rafters, being dominated by grazing/boring and suspension-feeding organisms, which occurred on all floating substrata. Besides these principal trophic groups, predators/scavengers and detritus-feeders were also reported. Motility of rafting organisms was highest on macroalgae and lowest on abiotic substrata such as plastics and volcanic pumice. Important trends were revealed for the reproductive biology of rafting organisms. A high proportion of clonal organisms (Cnidaria and Bryozoa) featured asexual reproduction, often in combination with sexual reproduction. Almost all rafting organisms have internal fertilisation, which may be due to the fact that gamete concentrations in the rafting environment are too low for successful fertilisation of external fertilisers. Following fertilisation, many rafting organisms incubate their offspring in/on their body or deposit embryos in egg masses on rafts. Local recruitment, where offspring settle in the immediate vicinity of parents, is considered an important advantage for establishing persistent local populations on a raft, or in new habitats. Some organisms are obligate rafters, spending their entire life cycle on a raft, but the large majority of reported rafters are considered facultative rafters. These organisms typically live in benthic (or terrestrial) habitats, but may become dispersed while being confined to a floating item. Substratum characteristics (complexity, surface, size) have important effects on the composition of the rafting community. While at sea, ecological interactions (facilitation, competition, predation) contribute to the community succession on rafts. Organisms capable to compete for and exploit resources on a raft (space and food) will be able to persist throughout community succession. The duration of rafting voyages is closely related to rafting distances, which may cover various geographical scales. In chronological order, three features of an organism gain in importance during rafting, these being ability to (1) hold onto floating items, (2) establish and compete successfully, and (3) develop persistent local populations during a long voyage. Small organisms that do not feed on their floating substratum and with asexual reproduction or direct development combine all these features, and appear to be most suited for long-distance dispersal on rafts and successful colonisation after reaching new habitats. All available evidence suggests that rafting is an important process for the population dynamics of many organisms and that it also has had and continues to have a strong influence on coastal biodiversity.

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Thiel, M. and Gutow, L. (2005): The ecology of rafting in the marine environment. II. The rafting organisms and community , Oceanography and marine biology, 43 , pp. 279-418 .

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