Wakame in Port Phillip Bay is not all bad

Photo by Luke Barrett

Introduced species always seem to get a bad rap – they can outcompete native species, or allow other introduced species to prosper, which can ultimately reduce native biodiversity. In coastal environments around the world, native seaweed populations have declined, with a range of non-native species taking over. With urchin barrens growing throughout Port Phillip Bay, there is less available habitat for native fishes. Dr Luke Barrett tested if fish utilised habitats formed by wakame, an introduced seaweed, as much as habitats containing local seaweeds. He found that native fishes did not distinguish between native and wakame habitats, and that fishes had similar fitness metrics in both habitat types. Compared to natural reefs that had been urchin-grazed, wakame canopies resulted in higher fish abundance and biodiversity. Therefore, despite being considered a pest species, wakame canopies can provide important habitats for endemic fish and may play a role in sustaining native fauna populations in this degraded ecosystem.

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