Population and species diversity fluctuations in a rocky intertidal community relative to severe aerial exposure and sediment burial

  • Seapy R
  • Littler M
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From a series of 10 quarterly assessment between October 1975 and May 1978 (inclusive), fluctuations in abundance were determined for macroinvertebrates and macrophytes of a rocky intertidal community on Santa Cruz Island, California, USA. During afternoon low tides in late fall and winter of the first 2 yr of study, organisms of the upper and middle intertidal zones were subjected to prolonged aerial exposure. Many species there tolerated this exposure, but die-backs occurred for a barnacle ( Chthamalus fissus/C. dalli ) and several algae ( Endocladia muricata, Pelvetia fastigiata f. gracilis, Corallina officinalis var. chilensis, Corallina vancouveriensis, Cylindrocarpus rugosus and Codium fragile ). These die-backs were succeeded by blooms of Ulva californica and Porphyra perforata . In the upper and middle intertidal zones, the major cover organisms that could tolerate prolonged aerial exposure were disproportionately prevalent and appeared to be maintained by the periodic repression of species intolerant to such exposure. In February 1978, heavy rainfall caused sediment inundation of the middle and lower intertidal zones. This event was followed by declines in abundance of a barnacle ( Tetraclita rubescens ) and several algae ( Pelvetia fastigiata f. gracilis and corallina spp.). Shannon-Wiener H' species diversity fluctuated from a high in October to a low the following May during both 1975–1976 and 1976–1977 in conjunction with the period of increased daytime aerial exposure in late fall and winter. A further decline in diversity following sediment inundation in February 1978 contributed to a long-term trend of declining H' species diversity (3.06 in October 1975 to 1.87 in May 1978). We hypothesize that predictable late fall to winter aerial exposure stresses, in combination with a random physical disturbance (sediment burial), exceeded an “optimal” intermediate level of disturbance predicted for maximal species diversity.

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  • R. R. Seapy

  • M. M. Littler

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