Scientific Reports 10 : 19219 (2020)
The widespread decline of canopy-forming macroalgal assemblages has been documented in many regions during the last decades. This pattern is often followed by the replacement of structurally complex algal canopies by more simplified habitats (e.g., turfs or sea urchin barren grounds). Against all odds, the fucoid Treptacantha elegans, a large Mediterranean brown macroalga, broadened its depth range to deeper and exposed environments and displayed an unexpected range expansion along the northern coast of Catalonia over the last two decades. Here, we reconstruct the spread of T. elegans in time and space and unravel ecological and demographic traits such as population dynamics and genetic patterns to provide a comprehensive and integrated view of the current status and geographical expansion for this species. Fast-growing dynamics, early fertile maturity, and high turnover rate are the main competitive advantages that allow the exposed populations of T. elegans to colonize available substrata and maintain dense and patchy populations. We also provided evidence that the deeper and exposed populations of T. elegans constitute a single group across the Catalan coast, with little genetic differentiation among populations. This seems to support the hypothesis of a unique source of spread in the last decades from the Medes Islands No-Take Zone towards both southern and northern waters.