Distribution and impact of the alien anemone Sagartia ornata in the West Coast National Park
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Sagartia ornata is an alien anemone that occurs intertidally within the West Coast National Park (WCNP). Whilst baseline distributional data was gathered in 2001, the range and abundance of this alien has not been reassessed. The present study aimed to determine the current status and distribution of this anemone, to assess its diet so as to establish the role it may play as predator and to investigate its impact on sandy-shore communities. Sagartia ornata was found to be restricted to the WCNP, where it occurred in densities of up to 508 ± 218 individuals per m2. Within the park the distribution of this anemone had changed. Populations were recorded in Nanozostera capensis seagrass beds for the first time and this alien was absent from two areas in which it had previously occurred. Diet analysis revealed indigenous polychaetes and amphipods as the dominant prey items consumed by S. ornata. This alien was found to significantly alter sandy-shore community structure, with differences caused primarily by increases in the abundance and biomass of the tanaid Anatanais gracilis and the polychaete Orbinia angrapequensis. Additionally, invaded areas supported significantly greater invertebrate diversity, density and biomass. It is concluded that whilst this anemone negatively affects native biota, its current dependence on restricted habitats precludes widespread impacts with the park. Conservation implications: With regard to conservation implications, this invasion should be routinely monitored outside the WCNP as in its native range S. ornata occurs on rocky shores and kelp holdfasts, suggesting a potential for spread along the west coast of South Africa.