Original Articles

Patterns in subtidal seaweed communities on coral-dominated reefs at Sodwana Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, South Africa


Subtidal seaweed communities of the northern coast of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) have not been studied before. At Sodwana Bay, we tested the hypotheses that the seaweed communities would (1) differ floristically with depth, (2) be more species-rich in shallower water, (3) show similar biomasses within the depth range sampled and (4) be affected (biomass and/or species composition) by sand. Samples were collected (using SCUBA) from reefs ('sites') at depths of about 1m, 7m, 10m, 15m and 26m. Each sample comprised all macroscopic (non-crustose) seaweeds within a 25cm × 25cm quadrat (five quadrats per depth). Environmental factors, including percentage sand cover and depth, were recorded. The seaweed communities were mainly compact turfs; a total of 82 Rhodophyta, 14 Chlorophyta and eight Phaeophyta were recorded. Ordination (canonical correspondence analysis) and classification (Twinspan) of the data showed clear differences in the floristic composition (either as species biomass or presence/absence) with depth, mainly between shallow subtidal communities (0.5–1.0m depth) and those at intermediate depths (5.5–15.0m), followed by the deepest communities (25.7–29.0m) and those at intermediate depths. The shallow samples showed the greatest species diversity. Total seaweed biomass decreased significantly with depth and percentage bare (seaweed-free) substratum increased significantly with depth, possibly because of lower wave action, light penetration, or different grazing patterns. Sand (as percentage sand cover) also affected seaweed community composition, but this showed no pattern with depth. The algal communities on these reefs at Sodwana Bay showed exceptional α-diversity, with 104 taxa (>20% of the recorded KZN flora) occurring in the total sample area of only 1.56m2. The seaweed communities of northern KZN are structurally and floristically similar to those of other tropical coral reefs around the world.

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