Faunal composition within algal mats and adjacent habitats in Likuri, Fiji Islands
The faunal composition within three mono-specific algal habitats was investigated at Likuri Island, southern Viti Levu, Fiji Islands. Gracilaria maramae was the dominant alga within algal drift mat, seagrass bed, and rocky substrate habitats at the study site. This algal species exhibits two distinctive morphologies depending on whether it is attached or loose-lying. When attached to seagrass blades or rocky substrates, this alga has long straight branches stemming from a single holdfast, while detached individuals develop curled tendrils that re-attach to adjacent substrates. Re-attachment behaviour and high growth rates result in a dense mat of drift algae, which provides a suitable micro-habitat for macro-invertebrates. The sources of algal fragments that contribute to the algal mat appear to be nearby seagrass beds and rocky substrates, where this species may settle directly from spores. Storm events may detach these algae, although pulling experiments showed that the attachment to rocky substrates is 5 times stronger than the attachment to seagrass blades. Results from the macrofaunal samples indicate that the loose-lying algal mat habitat had the highest abundance and biodiversity of organisms, followed by the seagrass bed, and then the rocky substrate habitat. The ability of loose G. maramae fragments to re-attach, along with their high growth rate, may provide a unique micro-habitat for highly abundant and diverse faunal assemblages, which in turn may sustain adjacent near-shore communities. This study highlights the ecological importance of floating algal mats to coastal ecosystems, which should be considered in future management strategies throughout the Fiji Islands.