Native tube-building polychaete prefers to anchor non-native alga over other macrophytes

Academic Article


  • Novel facultative mutualisms that develop between native and non-native ecosystem engineers can lead to the retention of the non-native partner. In some cases, behavior plays an additional, but less understood, role in the development and persistence of mutualisms. In soft-sediment marine habitats along the western Atlantic, the native decorator worm Diopatra cuprea anchors the non-native red alga Gracilaria vermiculophylla to its tube cap in a mutualism. To understand whether the worm’s usage of G. vermiculophylla could represent a preference, we first surveyed the species composition of macrophytes affixed to worm tube caps at three sites in coastal Virginia, USA using transect and quadrat sampling. These unmanipulated field surveys supported previous work revealing variable, but often high frequencies (31–98%) of D. cuprea decoration with G. vermiculophylla. We next used field manipulations and controlled laboratory experiments to test the consistency of individual D. cuprea decoration with G. vermiculophylla versus three common macrophytes (Ulva sp., Agardhiella sp., and Spartina alterniflora) found in our field surveys. Twenty-four hours after removing the worm’s tube cap in the field, D. cuprea decoration was dominated by both G. vermiculophylla (39.6%) and S. alterniflora (25.9%). When provided a choice of macrophytes in the laboratory, individual D. cuprea consistently decorated with G. vermiculophylla (58.7%) over the other macrophytes, showing a preference for the non-native macrophyte. Our study suggests that preference can drive strong and steadfast interactions between native and non-native organisms, facilitating the latter’s persistence and spread, change available habitat, and alter community interactions.
  • Published In

  • Oecologia  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Mott AW; Krueger-Hadfield SA; Blakeslee AMH; Fowler AE
  • Start Page

  • 967
  • End Page

  • 980
  • Volume

  • 198
  • Issue

  • 4