GRAZING DYNAMICS/PLANT HERBIVORY
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Mesozooplankton community composition and structure were examined throughout the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, Huon Estuary and North West Bay, Tasmania. The data represented by this record was collected as part of a grazing study conducted in North West Bay (1-2 October, 2006). The grazing impacts of microzooplankton and mesoplankton on the phytoplankton communities were examined during several process studies. Experiments with mesozooplankton grazers were restricted to dominant omnivorous copepods (e.g. Acartia tranteri, Paracalanus indicus, Centropages australiensis) cladocerans and appendicularians. Grazing rates of microzooplankton reached as high as 96% of daily primary production, while that of mesozooplankton herbivours was never greater than 20%. Trophic interactions between the species are complicated by the recent arrival of the heterotrophic dinoflagellate Noctiluca scintillans to the region. This species grazes heavily on phytoplankton, smaller zooplankton and faecal pellets. Noctiluca scintillans accounted for up to 20% of mesozooplankton abundance in autumn and it is capable of both suppressing zooplankton abundance and reducing the sedimentation of faecal pellets to the seafloor.
The long spined sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii (Diadematidae) has recently undergone poleward range expansion to eastern Tasmania (southeast Australia). This species is associated with barrens habitat which has been grazed free of macroalgae, and therefore has potentially important consequences for reef structure and biodiversity. This study used urchin removal experiments from barrens patches in eastern Tasmania to monitor the subsequent response of the macroalgae relative to unmanipulated barrens patches. In removal patches, there was a rapid proliferation of canopy-forming macroalgae (Ecklonia radiata and Phyllospora comosa), and within 24 months the algae community structure had converged with that of nearby areas without urchins. Faunal species richness was comparatively low in barrens habitat, with C. rodgersii grazing activity resulting in an estimated minimum net loss of approximately 150 taxa compared with intact macroalgal habitats.
Belt transect surveys (50m) were used to monitor the benthic community structure through time at experimental (lobster additions/ research reserve sites or abalone diver urchin culls) and control sites in eastern Tasmania. Measures of percentage cover of key algal guilds, percentage of reef grazed by sea urchins, number of sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii, Heliocidaris erythrogramma), Abalone (Haliotis Rubra), Rock lobsters (Jasus edwardsii) and type of substratum were recorded.