MEPS 195:281-289 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps195281

Marine ecological research in seashore and seafloor systems: accomplishments and future directions

James A. Estes1,*, Charles H. Peterson2

1U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, A-316 Earth and Marine Sciences Building, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA
2Institute of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA

ABSTRACT: Research in seashore and seafloor communities has contributed immensely to the conceptual growth of ecology. Here we summarize some of the most important findings and discuss needs and opportunities for future work. Disproportionately large numbers of the most influential contributions are derived from studies of rocky shores and coral reefs because aspects of these systems (accessibility) and of their most common species (sessile or weakly motile, high density, short generation time) make them well suited to manipulative experiments. Foremost among the research contributions from seashore and seafloor systems are increased understanding of (1) competition and consumer-prey interactions, (2) trophic cascades and other indirect species interactions, (3) the evolution of defense and resistance in consumer-prey systems, (4) the importance of propagule transport and recruitment variation to adult populations, (5) the impacts of physical disturbance, and (6) the generation and maintenance of species diversity on ecological time scales. We acknowledge the importance of manipulative experiments in the growth of marine ecology, but question whether a strict adherence to this approach will best serve future needs. Some of the most pressing needs for future knowledge are: (1) documenting the complex influences of spatial and temporal scales on ecological processes, (2) identifying the role of large, mobile predators in marine ecosystems, (3) understanding factors limiting marine autotrophs, (4) integrating historical biology and neontology, and (5) appreciating intersystem linkages. Increased attention to conducting arrays of experiments, taking measurements and observations, and documenting change at larger scales of space and time will provide insights that are unattainable by the commonly used methodological protocols. Novel approaches, including (1) evaluating and managing human disturbance for the joint purpose of conservation and learning, (2) developing stronger ties between scientists working in open-ocean and near-shore systems, and (3) developing collaborative projects among scientists in the academic, governmental, and private sectors are required to understand many of these processes.

KEY WORDS: Coral reefs · Ecological concepts · Kelp forests · Novel approaches · Rocky shores · Unconsolidated substrates

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