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Intertidal Mosaics: Patch Size, Propagule Availability, and Spatially Variable Patterns of Succession

Wayne P. Sousa
Ecology
Vol. 65, No. 6 (Dec., 1984), pp. 1918-1935
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/1937789
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1937789
Page Count: 18
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Intertidal Mosaics: Patch Size, Propagule Availability, and Spatially Variable Patterns of Succession
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Abstract

Localized disturbances transform most assemblages of sessile organisms into mosaics of patches differing in characteristics such as size and age (time since last disturbed). This mosaic nature of natural communities is especially evident on exposed intertidal shores along the northwest coast of North America, where the competitively dominant mussel, Mytilus californianus, occupies much of the space at mid-tidal levels. Nearly continuous beds of this species are interrupted by patches of open space generated mainly by the shearing forces of winter storm waves. These patches serve as foci for the recruitment, growth, and reproduction of many competitively inferior, "fugitive" species, including both algae and sessile invertebrates. These species are doomed to local extinction as the lateral encroachment of adult mussels closes the patch and excludes then from the area. This study examined the dynamics of algal succession within experimental patches cleared in mussel beds. In particular, two potentially important sources of variation in successional dynamics were investigated: (1) the size of the patch when first created, and (2) the location of the patch with respect to potential sources of propagules. The size of a cleared patch was found to influence strongly the course of algal succession. This effect was largely indirect, resulting from an interaction between patch size and grazing intensity. Small patches support higher densities of grazers, especially limpets, than do large patches. As a consequence, the assemblages of algae that develop within small and large patches differ markedly. The assemblage in small patches includes grazer-resistance but apparently competitively inferior species, whereas that in large patches is composed of grazer-vulnerable but competitively superior species. Small patches appear to serve as refuges from competition for grazer-resistant species. Recruitment was variable among the experimental patches. Percent cover of several species was found to be highly correlated with the cover of epozoic conspecific adults within 1 m of the edge of the patch. This result suggests that a number of the species inhabiting patches within mussel beds may disperse their propagules over relatively short distances. For such species, patch dispersion may influence the regional dynamics of their populations.

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