Noël, Laure M.-L.J., Hawkins, Steve J., Jenkins, Stuart R. and Thompson, Richard C.
Grazing dynamics in intertidal rockpools: Connectivity of microhabitats.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 370, (1-2), . (doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2008.11.005).
Differences between rockpool and emergent rock communities are often attributed to their contrasting physical conditions. However, differences in grazing pressure between rockpools and open rock could also exert an important structuring role. Greater densities and/or the lack of tidal constraints on foraging may allow grazing intensity to be greater in rockpools. Here, wax discs were deployed to compare grazing intensity between rockpool and emergent rock habitats at each of three tidal heights on a moderately exposed shore in SW England. Grazing intensity was then examined in relation to herbivore density. Grazing intensity in pools was twice that on emergent rock, despite a lower density of herbivores in the rockpools. Of these herbivores, patellid limpets are the dominant grazers on rocky shores throughout the NE Atlantic and are recognised to have a major role in structuring intertidal communities. Thus, subsequent experiments focussed on the influence of limpets in determining the differences in consumer pressure between rockpools and emergent rock. Three alternative explanations were considered: (1) the effect of continuous immersion on grazing intensity in rockpools; (2) differences in limpet species abundance between the two habitats; (3) movement of limpets from emergent rock into pools to feed. The level of grazing pressure exerted by Patella ulyssiponensis (Gmelin), the predominant species living constantly immersed in rockpools, was similar to that of P. vulgata (Linnaeus) which is predominantly found on emergent rock. P. vulgata were observed moving from emergent rock into rockpools during high tide. Manipulative experiments confirmed that these foraging excursions resulted in a 2-fold increase in grazing intensity in the pools. Grazing activity of P. vulgata in rockpools was not consistent between sites and may be influenced by differences in wave exposure and/or the abundance of microbial resources. Elevated consumer pressure in rockpools may be an important factor influencing algal assemblages and probably explains the predominance of grazer resistant-species in these pools.
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