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Keywords:

  • Aleutian Archipelago;
  • Eualaria fistulosa;
  • fecundity;
  • kelp;
  • urchin barren;
  • zoospore

The Aleutian Archipelago coastal ecosystem has undergone a dramatic change in community composition during the past two decades. Following the removal of ∼99% of the sea otters, Enhydra lutris, from the ecosystem, changes to the benthic communities resulted in widespread losses to most of the region’s kelp beds and corresponding increases in the prevalence of urchin barrens. Within the urchin barrens, the few kelps that have remained are exposed to elevated light, nutrients and currents, all of which may enhance their physiological condition and thus result in greater fecundity. To explore this further, we examined patterns of sporophyte fecundity in the dominant canopy-forming kelp, Eualaria fistulosa, in both urchin barrens and in nearby kelp beds at seven Aleutian Islands spanning a range of 800 km. We found that the average weight of E. fistulosa sporophyll bundles was significantly greater on sporophytes occurring in the urchin barrens than in the nearby kelp beds. Furthermore, the average number of zoospores released per cm2 of sporophyll area was also significantly greater in individuals from the urchin barrens than the nearby kelp beds. When these two metrics were combined, our results suggest that individual E. fistulosa sporophytes occurring in the urchin barrens may produce as many as three times more zoospores than individual E. fistulosa sporophytes occurring in the nearby kelp beds, and thus they may contribute disproportionately to the following year’s sporophyte recruitment in both urchin barrens and the adjacent kelp beds.