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Application of computer-aided tomography techniques to visualize kelp holdfast structure reveals the importance of habitat complexity for supporting marine biodiversity

Orland, Chloé, Queirós, Ana M., Spicer, John I., McNeill, Caroline L., Higgins, Sarah, Goldworthy, Sharon, Zananiri, Tony, Archer, Lesley, Widdicombe, Stephen
Journal of experimental marine biology and ecology 2016 v.477 pp. 47-56
Laminaria, biodiversity, community structure, computed tomography, ecosystem engineers, ecosystems, fauna, fractal dimensions, habitats, image analysis, keystone species, least squares, macroalgae, prioritization, surface area, variance
Ecosystem engineers that increase habitat complexity are keystone species in marine systems, increasing shelter and niche availability, and therefore biodiversity. For example, kelp holdfasts form intricate structures and host the largest number of organisms in kelp ecosystems. However, methods that quantify 3D habitat complexity have only seldom been used in marine habitats, and never in kelp holdfast communities. This study investigated the role of kelp holdfasts (Laminaria hyperborea) in supporting benthic faunal biodiversity. Computer-aided tomography (CT-) scanning was used to quantify the three-dimensional geometrical complexity of holdfasts, including volume, surface area and surface fractal dimension (FD). Additionally, the number of haptera, number of haptera per unit of volume, and age of kelps were estimated. These measurements were compared to faunal biodiversity and community structure, using partial least-squares regression and multivariate ordination. Holdfast volume explained most of the variance observed in biodiversity indices, however all other complexity measures also strongly contributed to the variance observed. Multivariate ordinations further revealed that surface area and haptera per unit of volume accounted for the patterns observed in faunal community structure. Using 3D image analysis, this study makes a strong contribution to elucidate quantitative mechanisms underlying the observed relationship between biodiversity and habitat complexity. Furthermore, the potential of CT-scanning as an ecological tool is demonstrated, and a methodology for its use in future similar studies is established. Such spatially resolved imager analysis could help identify structurally complex areas as biodiversity hotspots, and may support the prioritization of areas for conservation.