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The effects of exotic seaweeds on native benthic assemblages: variability between trophic levels and influence of background environmental and biological conditions

DOI: 10.1186/2047-2382-1-8

Keywords: Biological invasions, Seaweeds, Consumers, Human disturbance, Biodiversity, Ecosystem functioning

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This protocol provides details of our proposed method to carry out a systematic review aiming to identify and synthesize existing knowledge to answer the following primary questions: a) how does the impact of the presence of exotic seaweeds on native primary consumers (across trophic levels) compare in magnitude and extent to that observed on native primary producers (same trophic level)?; b) does the intensity of the effects of the presence of exotic seaweeds on native benthic ecosystems vary along a gradient of human disturbance (i.e. from urban/industrial areas to extra-urban areas to pristine areas)?Biological invasions are an important component of global change, posing major threats to marine biodiversity [1]. The introduction of non-indigenous species can alter the structure and functioning of natural ecosystems, with potential repercussions for their ability to provide goods and services to humans [2,3]. Thus, assessing the impacts of introduced species on native assemblages is among the top priorities for ecologists.In the marine environment, the spread of introduced benthic macroalgae can lead to their complete domination of substrata, strongly affecting native assemblages and biodiversity. The impacts of introduced seaweeds on native macroalgal assemblages have been thoroughly reviewed [4,5]. In contrast, no attempt has been made to synthesize the available information on the effects of exotic seaweeds on other trophic levels. This is at odds with mounting evidence indicating that exotic seaweeds can be consumed by guilds of native herbivores, which, in some cases, receive physiological damage through the ingestion of these novel sources of food [6-8]. For instance, the red pigment caulerpin, the most abundant secondary metabolite of the green exotic macroalga, Caulerpa racemosa, enters food chains and accumulates in the fish tissues [8]. Significant correlations among caulerpin tissue load, fish condition factor and hepatosomatic index suggest a possible


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