Resilience and elasticity of intertidal communities in response to harvesting of the alien mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis

03 November 2010

Besides the direct impacts of exploitation on target species, indirect effects on non-target species are unavoidable and find expression in changes in community structure. We quantified the effects of experimental harvesting of Mytilus galloprovincialis on intertidal communities on the South African west coast. In the mid- and low-shore, four months of harvesting at intensities greater than F=0.3 and F=0.6 respectively, resulted in significant changes in community composition. These changes were driven by progressively greater spatial dominance by the macroalgae Cladophora flagelliformis, Porphyra capensis and Ulva species as harvesting intensity increased. Four months after cessation of harvesting, community structure had not recovered and even areas subjected to as little as F=0.3 supported significantly altered communities in both zones. The fact that substantial community changes were induced by even low-intensity exploitation is indicative of low resilience to harvesting. The densities and cover of the dominant taxa returned to a pre-harvest state 16 months after the cessation of harvesting, but multivariate analyses indicated that the overall community composition required 32 months for Cover Letter full recovery. Although these communities displayed elasticity within three years, it is recommended that should a M. galloprovincialis fishery be established in the region, harvesting be implemented at a maximum intensity of F=0.3. This approach would maximise yields and protect associated intertidal communities.