Understanding the ecological factors regulating exploited natural communities is important in establishing conservation and management strategies. Since the 1960s, artisanal fishermen have harvested up to 300 000 dry tons yr-1of wild populations of Lessonia spp. kelps. Adult kelps form a key habitat on the rocky shores of Chile, and benthic grazers regulate kelp populations by grazing or bulldozing microscopic and juvenile stages. To establish the role of the grazer assemblage in the recovery of kelp stands following harvesting, we conducted a manipulative experiment simulating artisanal kelp extraction and then manipulating the presence of grazers. We followed community succession and spatial distribution of L. berteroana recruits in manipulated and control rocky shore platforms for ca. 12 mo. Inter-individual distances of recruits and spatial autocorrelation analyses showed that the presence of grazers determined a patchy distributional pattern of L. berteroana. The aggregated spatial pattern of kelp recruits in the presence of grazers was followed by numerous coalescence events between small holdfasts, but no coalescence events were observed between recruits in the grazer removal areas. Our results suggest that grazing and recruit coalescence play an important role in the recovery of kelp stands following artisanal harvesting. Incorporating these processes into conservation and management strategies may bolster current strategies, which are based solely on the spatial structure of kelp stands.
- Kelp communities
- Spatial structure