[en] Codium elisabethae O.C. Schmidt is a dark green globose macroalgae isolating an internal sea water volume in a lumen. Codium elisabethae is endemic to the Macaronesian region and is very similar to Codium bursa C. Agardh whose distribution range spans the West-European, North-Western African and Mediterranean coasts and which was proposed as a potential indicator of coastal environmental changes based on the study of its ecology, revealing its long lifespan. Until recently, relatively little was known on Codium elisabethae as compared to the more widespread Codium bursa.
To fill this gap, the present research aimed at producing an accurate description of the ecology and population dynamics of Codium elisabethae occupying the rocky shores of the Monte da Guia Special Area of Conservation (SAC)/Natura 2000 network (Faial, Azores). To achieve this, two reference sites were selected for long term monitoring: a sheltered no-go reserve exhibiting a dense Codium elisabethae population (Caldeirinhas), and a location experiencing more exposed conditions holding a sparser population (Ponta Furada).
First, environmental conditions experimented by benthic organisms were extensively quantified and interpretated in regard to topographical particularities of each site. The study of reproduction dynamics showed a persistent summer fertility and an important vegetative reproduction. Important nutrient concentration ratio was found between the Codium elisabethae lumen water and surrounding sea water (mean ratios: nitrates: 5.7; ammonium: 3.4; phosphates: 3.1). In situ counting’s and size measurements revealed much higher densities of young recruits in the site of the Caldeirinhas (order of 20 ind/m²) than in the one of Ponta Furada (order of 1/m), for both summer and winter.
Secondly, underwater visible imagery was exploited as an efficient and non-invasive alternative to classical in situ population estimation. Between August 2003 and November 2005, fifteen seabed photo coverages were collected by scuba-divers. Subsequent image processing consisted in mosaicing, interactive identification, and automatic change detection methods. This allowed quantifying the seasonal fluctuations of population structures (density, percentage cover and biomass) and of population dynamics (growth, recruitment, mortality and primary production). Chi-square tests of image-derived estimates and in situ measurements confirmed the validity of a centimeter precision for the estimation of population structure of individuals above 4 cm diameter. Important variability of population structure and density was observed within the sites at small spatial scales. Significant differences of population structure and dynamics parameters are demonstrated between two close-by but contrasting coastal habitats. Population density showed a sharp reduction in autumn 2003 and did not recover fully in spring and summer 2004. During the following year, population of the protected site maintained density and biomass, while at the exposed site population density dropped. In contrast with conclusions from earlier studies on the Azorian Codium elisabethae and on the Mediterranean Codium bursa, the present study revealed higher biomass (34 - 730 g dry wt.m-²), growth rates (up to 2.5 cm/month in summer) and primary production (0.53 – 11.5 g dry wt.m-².day-1), and demonstrated the seasonal fluctuations of these parameters for the studied Azorian Codium elisabethae population. The lifespan of Codium elisabethae was estimated to reach at least 7 years in the SAC of Monte da Guia based on an integration of average seasonal growth rates measured by imagery on extended population samples.
This study demonstrates the high potential of registered underwater photomosaics time-series for long term surveys of macroalgae populations. This work provides also a strong framework to further developments and applicability to other species, which should be helpful to strengthen our current understanding of benthic ecosystem processes.
Research center :
Laboratory of Oceanology, University of Liège; Department of Oceanography and Fisheries, University of the Azores
Engineering, computing & technology: Multidisciplinary, general & others
Aquatic sciences & oceanology
Environmental sciences & ecology