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Recolonization of the intertidal and shallow subtidal community following the 2008 eruption of Alaska’s Kasatochi Volcano

March 31, 2014

The intertidal and nearshore benthic communities of Kasatochi Island are described following a catastrophic volcanic eruption in 2008. Prior to the eruption, the island was surrounded by a dense bed of canopy-forming dragon kelp Eualaria fistulosa which supported a productive nearshore community. The eruption extended the coastline of the island approximately 400 m offshore to roughly the 20 m isobath. One year following the eruption a reconnaissance survey found the intertidal zone devoid of life. Subtidally, the canopy kelp, as well as limited understory algal species and associated benthic fauna on the hard substratum, were buried by debris from the eruption. The resulting substrate was comprised almost entirely of medium and coarse sands with a depauperate benthic community. Comparisons of habitat and biological communities with other nearby Aleutian Islands and the Icelandic submarine volcanic eruption of Surtsey confirm dramatic reductions in flora and fauna consistent with the initial stages of recovery from a large-scale disturbance event. Four and five years following the eruption brief visits revealed dramatic intertidal and subtidal recolonization of the flora and fauna in some areas. Signs of nesting and fledging of young pigeon guillemots Cepphus columba suggest that the recovery of the nearshore biota may have begun affecting higher trophic levels. Recolonization or lack thereof was tied to bathymetric changes from coastal and nearshore erosion over the study period.

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