Impacts of alien 'ecosystem engineers' overwhelm interannual and seasonal shifts in rocky-shore community composition on Marcus Island, South Africa
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The South African coastline has been invaded by numerous alien species. Rare pre-invasion (1980) and post-invasion datasets (2001 and 2012) exist for Marcus Island, a small land-tied island in Saldanha Bay, South Africa. These snapshot datasets of the island’s intertidal invertebrate community were complemented with monitoring across seasons, from 2014 to 2016. Invertebrate communities were compared among the summers of 1980, 2001, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 to assess interannual differences, while invertebrates and algae were monitored quarter-annually to assess seasonal changes. In addition, the population dynamics of the alien mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis were monitored. Differences in invertebrate communities between consecutive summers were significant but much smaller than changes induced by the arrival of alien species. Invertebrate and seaweed communities differed among years and shore zones but not among seasons, whereas species diversity differed among years, seasons and shore zones, with zones having the strongest influence. The invasion by M. galloprovincialis, and ensuing spatial and temporal variability in its recruitment, emerged as the most important factor influencing community composition, overshadowing interannual and seasonal changes. This work highlights that the impacts of alien species can be distinguished from natural variability by combining long-term monitoring with surveys at finer temporal scales. This is an important step in extending our understanding of the impacts of marine alien species.