Artificial structures alter kelp functioning across an urbanised estuary

M. Mayer-Pinto*, K. A. Dafforn, A. B. Bugnot, T. M. Glasby, E. L. Johnston

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Assessments of human impacts on natural habitats often focus on the abundance of component species, yet physiological and/or sub-lethal effects of stressors on functional attributes may be equally important to consider. Here we evaluated how artificial structures, an integral part of urbanisation in the marine environment, affects key functional properties of the habitat-forming kelp Ecklonia radiata. Given that stressors rarely occur in isolation, we assessed the effects of infrastructure across an urbanised estuary. Estuaries are ideal for studying how multiple anthropogenic and natural stressors influence potential impacts of infrastructure on habitat-forming species because these habitats usually face a wide range and levels of stressors. Here, we compared the abundance of habitat-forming macro-algae as well as the growth, erosion and photosynthetic activity of kelp in artificial and natural habitats across one of the largest urbanised estuaries in the word - Sydney Harbour. We predicted that effects of artificial structures on functional attributes of kelps would be stronger in the inner area of the Harbour, characterised by higher levels of human impacts and low flushing. Contrary to our predictions, we found that effects of infrastructure were consistent across the estuary, regardless of the ecological footprint caused by human activities or natural environmental gradients. When differences were observed between areas of the estuary, they mostly occurred independently of impacts of substrate type. Importantly, we found lower erosion rates of kelp on pilings than on reefs, likely resulting in lower production of detritus in estuaries where natural reefs are degraded or lost and pilings added. Such impacts have important implications for the connectivity among coastal habitats and secondary productivity in adjacent and remote habitats, which are highly dependent on the exportation of kelp detritus. Our study is the first to assess potential functional consequences of urbanisation through physiological and/or biomechanical effects on habitat-formers, an often overlooked mechanism of environmental impact on ecosystem functioning.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)136-143
    Number of pages8
    JournalMarine Environmental Research
    Early online date5 May 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


    • Ecklonia radiata
    • Ecosystem functioning
    • Growth-rates
    • Habitat-formers
    • Sargassum spp.
    • Urbanisation


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