Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Ecological Effects of Undaria pinnatifida (Harvey) Suringar and Nutrient-Enrichment on Intertidal Assemblages in the Wellington Region of New Zealand

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:29 authored by Morelissen, Bionda

The introduction of non-native species and the alteration of seawater nutrient regimes due to anthropogenic impacts are two important threats to marine environments. Moreover, these disturbances may interact in such a way that promotes the success of invasive species in coastal habitats. This thesis contributes to current gaps in knowledge in these areas for low-intertidal communities. Algal community dynamics and ecological effects of the invasive kelp Undaria pinnatifida on low shores in the Wellington region, New Zealand, were examined, using field surveys and experiments. In addition, the role of variability in nutrient concentrations in coastal waters in mediating algal community structure and diversity, and the success of U. pinnatifida reproduction were investigated. Algal surveys were used in two locations thought to differ in nutrient regimes, the Wellington Harbour and the Wellington south coast, to explore the structure and dynamics of algal assemblages. Results showed high variability of low-intertidal algal communities among sites, but no consistent differences in algal community composition were found between the two locations, despite higher U. pinnatifida cover in the harbour. Over the duration of the study, nutrient regimes did not differ greatly between the locations. The response of rocky intertidal algal assemblages to chronic exposure to high nutrient effluent was investigated using two nearshore sewage outfalls in the Wellington region. The Titahi Bay outfall showed a stronger relationship between nutrients and algal community composition. Variation in algal assemblage structure and diversity was best explained by phosphate concentrations. By contrast, at the more wave-exposed Pencarrow outfall, patterns of change in the algal community were less clear and there was a much weaker relationship with seawater nutrients. Because removal of native algal canopy species may facilitate the establishment of invasive macroalgae, the invasion process of U. pinnatifida in disturbed patches in a rocky low-intertidal habitat was investigated. In a site where U. pinnatifida had not yet established, patches were scraped clear of native algal cover at two different times of year, and recruitment of U. pinnatifida was monitored. While U. pinnatifida invaded the site, it recruited in control plots at a similar rate as cleared plots, suggesting that physical disturbance of the native algal assemblage is not a key requirement for this kelp to invade and establish in new areas in the low intertidal zone. The response of native algal assemblages to removal of U. pinnatifida individuals was investigated at intertidal sites in the Wellington Harbour and on the south coast. No significant effect of U. pinnatifida on community composition, diversity, and species richness was detected. Removal of this invader did not change native intertidal assemblage structure in either harbour or south coast sites. Lastly, effects of different nutrient regimes and light intensities on early development and reproduction of U. pinnatifida were studied using a laboratory experiment. Under low light conditions U. pinnatifida gametophyte growth and reproduction stalled and was not increased by the addition of nutrients. However, at medium and high light levels, gametophyte growth and reproduction, and particularly early stage sporophyte growth rates increased when exposed to higher nutrient concentrations.These effects could have implications for U. pinnatifida population dynamics in intertidal habitats where light is not often a limiting resource. This research contributed to a better understanding of factors that underlie invasion dynamics, distribution, and ecological effects of U. pinnatifida and seawater nutrient regimes on low-intertidal assemblages in the Wellington region. The outcomes can assist in setting up strategic environmental protection and conservation plans.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Marine Biology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Phillips, Nicole; Zuccarello, Joe