Ecological interactions in the provision of habitat by urban development: Whelks and engineering by oysters on artificial seawalls

  • Jackson A
  • Chapman M
  • Underwood A
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Increases in human population cause increased urbanization of most habitats, including the shoreline. This has many consequences for coastal environments, in particular the trend for artificial structures, such as seawalls, to replace natural habitats. Seawalls and natural shores support many of the common intertidal species, but others important on rocky shores are absent from or rare on many seawalls. The whelk Morula marginalba Blainville is an abundant and important predator on rocky shores of south-eastern Australia, but is infrequently recorded on artificial substrata. In Sydney Harbour, where the Sydney rock oyster (Saccostrea glomerata Gould) was locally abundant, densities of M. marginalba on some seawalls appeared to be similar to those on rocky shores and to be larger than where there were few oysters.We sampled densities and sizes of whelks in four habitats, predicting and corroborating that: (i) on seawalls with many oysters, there would be more whelks than on seawalls with few oysters; (ii) where there are many oysters, densities of whelks would be similar on seawalls and rocky shores; and (iii) whelks would be larger where oysters were abundant. Growth and survival of whelks were measured to test hypotheses from the observed differences in size and density. Survival was greater in habitats with many oysters, which could explain differences in density, but size-specific differences in survival could not explain differences in size among habitats. On seawalls but not on rocky shores, slower growth could explain the smaller size of whelks where there were few oysters. Seawalls provide important habitat for M. marginalba, but only via their indirect effects, mediated by oysters.These interactions cannot be predicted from those on natural rocky shores. Predicting how developed areas provide suitable habitat, either in management of conservation or in assessments of potential impacts clearly depends on understanding the roles of biogenic habitats

Author-supplied keywords

  • Artificial habitat
  • Ecosystem engineer
  • Indirect interaction
  • Morula marginalba
  • Oyster
  • Saccostrea glomerata
  • Seawall
  • Whelk

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