Oceanic barnacles act as foundation species on plastic debris: implications for marine dispersal

Plastic has emerged as an abundant, stable substratum for oceanic dispersal of organisms via rafting. However, the ecological mechanisms underlying community diversity on plastic debris remain poorly understood. On a cruise from California to Hawai’i, we surveyed plastic debris, some likely originating from the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami, to examine the relationship between rafting community diversity and both habitat area and stalked barnacle (Lepas spp.) abundance. For sessile taxa richness, we observed an interaction in which the positive effect of debris area weakened the negative effect of barnacle cover. In contrast, for mobile taxa richness, including cohabiting species from opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, barnacle abundance had a positive effect that was strongest at smaller debris sizes. These findings suggest that barnacles, through interactions with habitat area, have trait-dependent effects on other species, serving as both foundation species and competitors, mediating the diversity and dispersal potential of marine organisms on plastic debris.

Michael A. Gil, Joseph B. Pfaller, Nature Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 19987, 2016

The article (open access)

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