The spatial arrangement of reefs alters the ecological patterns of fauna between interspersed algal habitats
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
Reef landscapes dominated by canopy-forming species are often irregular mosaics of habitats, with important influences on associated fauna. This study tested if differences in the ecological patterns of mobile fauna inhabiting interspersed (morphologically distinct) algal habitats were altered by the spatial arrangement of reefs of varying proximity to the shoreline. Specifically, prosobranch gastropods were used as models to test that: (1) there were differences in the ecological patterns (species composition and abundances) between three algal habitats (the kelp Ecklonia radiata, fucalean macroalgae, and erect red algae); (2) the magnitude of these differences depended on the position of reef lines (‘in-shore’ vs. ‘off-shore’); and (3) these effects were regionally consistent across a ∼4° latitudinal gradient (∼600 km of coastline) in Western Australia. The ecological patterns of algal-associated gastropods responded strongly to the presence of algal habitats with different physical structure at small spatial scales. Importantly, differences in assemblage structure (e.g. differences in total abundances) between habitats across the latitudinal gradient were especially accentuated on the in-shore reefs compared with the off-shore reefs, where a general amelioration of differences between habitats was observed, probably associated with a more widespread effect of stronger wave forces across habitats. Overall, red algae supported higher total abundances and species richness (per algal weight) compared to the other algal habitats, particularly on in-shore reefs. Patterns for individual species were considerably location-dependent, reflecting the natural variability of species across geographical gradients. In contrast, patterns at the assemblage-level were consistent, providing evidence for the existence of general rules underlying the assemblage-level organization of mobile invertebrates on subtidal reefs across this geographical gradient.