Thesis: Ecological functions and functional redundancy between different habitat-forming seaweeds
Environments all around the world are changing under the pressure of human activities. Many temperate marine ecosystems have experienced major shifts in the main habitat forming seaweed species. In Western Australia, for example, there have been major shifts in the distribution and abundance of Ecklonia radiata, Scytotalia dorycarpa, Sargassum spp. and small foliose and turf forming species. The exact nature of functions provided by these different types of seaweeds and, in particular, the degree to which these are unique or overlap are poorly understood. As a consequence, we know little about how recorded and projected shifts in seaweed species will affect the overall ecosystem dynamics. The main objective of my research is to quantify ecological functions of prominent seaweed canopies and investigate to what extent there is a functional redundancy between different seaweeds.
Why my research is important
Temperate reefs are one of the most important marine ecosystems in Australia. Collectively termed the “Great Southern Reef”, temperate reefs span over 8000 kilometres of the Australian coastline, stretching from northern New South Wales in the east, southern Australia, including Tasmania, all the way to Kalbarri in Western Australia. The foundation species on which these temperate ecosystems are built, are canopy forming seaweeds from the orders of Laminariales and Fucales. Climate forcing has caused a range contraction in the species distribution of some of these foundations species - mainly Ecklonia radiata (kelp) and Scytothalia dorycarpa - in the North West of the GSR, and this contraction is projected to continue.Changes to foundation species cascades throughout the entire ecosystem, meaning that the implications of this research could play a role in multiple aspects of ecosystem management, such as sustainable fisheries, conservation, and restoration projects in a global biodiversity hotspot.