Ecological effects of Ulva lactuca L. in Avon-Heathcote Estuary
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Macroalgal blooms are increasing world-wide and have negative effects on benthic invertebrates and sediments. These include loss of species diversity and development of hostile sediment environments. This thesis considers ecological effects of Ulva lactuca L., and its mechanical removal on benthic invertebrates and sediments in Avon-Heathcote Estuary, New Zealand. Benthic communities comprised 34 species from 12 groups recorded from seven sites during seasonal general surveys. Dominant groups at each site were Gastropoda and Bivalvia. The most abundant species were Austrovenus stutchburyi, Micrelenchus tenebrosus and Amphibola crenata. Community composition varied significantly between sites, and there were significant site-specific differences in abundances of most species between winter and summer. U. lactuca had the greatest seasonal variation. Several species correlated with U. lactuca biomass, and the strength of correlation for different species varied between sites. There were seasonal changes in sediment physico-chemical variables between sites with greatest change in the silt/clay fraction. The sediment variables silt/clay fraction, dissolved oxygen and temperature correlated with seasonal changes of patterns in benthic community assemblages. A similar study was carried out by Bressington in 2003. In both studies, Bivalvia and Gastropoda were the most abundant groups, with Gastropoda having a higher, and Bivalvia a lower, proportion in the present study compared with 2003. Summer communities were significantly different between the two studies. Compared with 2003 there were higher percentages of sediment pore water and volatile solids present in 2005. Experimental removal of U. lactuca was conducted by mechanical broom at two sites: an open, exposed central sand flat, and McCormacks Bay, a shallow, sheltered mud flat. Removing U. lactuca had several immediate effects. These included a significant decrease in abundance of mobile epifauna (Micrelenchus tenebrosus and Zeacumantus subcarinatus) and an increase in abundance of infauna, including Arthritica bifurca and Austrovenus stutchburyi. There was no effect of U. lactuca removal on Austrovenus stutchburyi condition and 46 days following removal, invertebrate abundances approached pre-removal levels at each site. U. lactuca removal also caused short-term increases in dissolved oxygen and temperature of pore water. The greatest visual impact of removing U. lactuca was to sediments in McCormacks Bay from trampling. It was concluded that the variables having the greatest effect on seasonal species distribution and abundance at each site were temperature and sediment grain size. Differences between the present study and the study in 2003 were due to differences in sampling procedure mainly due to the two different quadrat sizes. Greater accuracy in representing long-term changes in ecosystems would be achieved by using standard sampling protocols. Removal of U. lactuca by mechanical broom was effective and had low impact on benthic invertebrates and physico-chemical variables, but it should be used only in sandy habitats because of severe disturbance to soft-sediment environments. Options for management and control of U. lactuca in Avon-Heathcote Estuary are discussed.