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Keywords:

  • Acanthophora spicifera;
  • epiphytism;
  • epizoism;
  • invasive species;
  • Mexican Pacific;
  • sponge assemblages

Abstract

The aim of this study was to analyze the interaction of a non-native macroalga (Acanthophora spicifera) with native macroalgae (Sargassum spp.) and sponge assemblages in a subtropical embayment of the Mexican Pacific. The intensity of A. spicifera epiphytism on the native seaweed Sargassum varied significantly over time and was inversely related to the Sargassum density and size. The higher intensity (up to 28 individuals per host plant) occurred when Sargassum was smaller and was lower in density (senescence period). The lower intensity was recorded during the growth period of Sargassum and the subsequent increase in intensity was attributed to a high fragmentation period of A. spicifera, which was evidenced by a decrease in its average size and biomass and by the presence of larger free-floating accumulations on the subtidal zone. The facultative interaction between A. spicifera and Sargassum appears to be neutral, as no negative or positive effects were found for epiphytic or basibiont seaweeds. However, this invasive seaweed characteristically monopolizes almost all types of hard substrate, and its effects on other algae and benthic organisms should be investigated. Moreover, A. spicifera was often epizoic on epilithic sponges. This invasive seaweed was found anchored on the sponge tissue by rhizome-like structures. In addition, free-floating fronds of A. spicifera were frequently found carrying small pieces of the basibiont sponge in its basis (60% of them with eggs and embryos), which suggests a novel facilitation mechanism for some sponge species, as the A. spicifera epizoism could favor fragmentation, dispersal and recruitment of these invertebrates. This study shows that A. spicifera is not only a species that adapts rapidly to the new conditions of the receiving environment but, due to its epibiotic traits, it can directly interact with and influence the life histories of some native species.