Changes in habitat complexity negatively affect diverse gastropod assemblages in coralline algal turf.
- Publication Type:
- Journal Article
- Oecologia, 2003, 135 (3), pp. 431 - 441
- Issue Date:
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The physical structure of a habitat generally has a strong influence on the diversity and abundance of associated organisms. I investigated the role of coralline algal turf structure in determining spatial variation of gastropod assemblages at different tidal heights of a rocky shore near Sydney, Australia. The structural characteristics of algal turf tested were frond density (or structural complexity) and frond length (the vertical scale over which structural complexity was measured). This definition of structural complexity assumes that complexity of the habitat increases with increasing frond density. While frond length was unrelated to gastropod community structure, I found significant correlations between density of fronds and multivariate and univariate measures of gastropod assemblages, indicating the importance of structural complexity. In contrast to previous studies, here there were negative relationships between the density of fronds and the richness and abundance of gastropods. Artificial habitat mimics were used to manipulate the density of fronds to test the hypothesis that increasing algal structural complexity decreases the richness and abundance of gastropods. As predicted, there were significantly more species of gastropods in loosely packed than in tightly packed turf at both low- and mid-shore levels. Despite large differences between gastropod assemblages at different tidal heights, the direction and magnitude of these negative effects were similar at low- and mid-shore levels and, therefore, relatively independent of local environmental conditions. These novel results extend our previous understanding of the ecological effects of habitat structure because they demonstrate possible limitations of commonly used definitions of structural complexity, as well as distinct upper thresholds in the relationship between structural complexity and faunal species richness.
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