Introduced algae have become a prominent component of the marine flora in many regions worldwide. In the NE Pacific, the introduced Japanese alga Sargassum muticum (Yendo) Fensholt is common and abundant in shallow, subtidal, rocky habitats, but its effects on subtidal, benthic communities in this region have not previously been studied. I measured the response of native species to experimental manipulation of S. muticum in field experiments in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Native canopy (brown) and understory (red) algae were more abundant in plots from which S. muticum had been removed, and the native kelp Laminaria bongardiana (the most abundant species of brown alga in the absence of S. muticum) grew more than twice as fast in plots where S. muticum was absent. The negative effects of S. muticum on native algae appear to be a result of shading, rather than changes in water flow, sedimentation, or nutrient availability. S. muticum also had a strongly negative indirect effect on the native sea urchin Stronglyocentrotus droebachiensis by reducing abundances of the native kelp species on which it prefers to feed. My results indicate that S. muticum has a substantial impact on native communities in this region, including effects at multiple trophic levels. Because of their worldwide distribution and capacity to alter native communities, non-indigenous algae are potentially important agents of global ecological change.
Invading species typically need to overcome multiple limiting factors simultaneously in order to become established, and understanding how such factors interact to regulate the invasion process remains a major challenge in ecology. We used the invasion of marine algal communities by the seaweed Sargassum muticum as a study system to experimentally investigate the independent and interactive effects of disturbance and propagule pressure in the short term. Based on our experimental results, we parameterized an integrodifference equation model, which we used to examine how disturbances created by different benthic herbivores influence the longer term invasion success of S. muticum. Our experimental results demonstrate that in this system neither disturbance nor propagule input alone was sufficient to maximize invasion success. Rather, the interaction between these processes was critical for understanding how the S. muticum invasion is regulated in the short term. The model showed that both the size and spatial arrangement of herbivore disturbances had a major impact on how disturbance facilitated the invasion, by jointly determining how much space-limitation was alleviated and how readily disturbed areas could be reached by dispersing propagules. Both the short-term experiment and the long-term model show that S. muticum invasion success is co-regulated by disturbance and propagule pressure. Our results underscore the importance of considering interactive effects when making predictions about invasion success.