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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 443:65-75 (2011)  -  DOI:

Importance of consumers on exposed and sheltered rocky shores

N. E. O’Connor1,2,*, I. Donohue3, T. P. Crowe4, M. C. Emmerson1,2,5

1Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork, Lee Road, Cork, Ireland
2School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK
3School of Natural Sciences, Department of Zoology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
4School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
5School of Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College Cork, North Mall, Cork, Ireland

ABSTRACT: It is often suggested that the relative importance of biotic processes, such as recruitment, competition and predation of marine benthic species, varies predictably along a gradient of exposure to wave action. Several established models of community dynamics on rocky shores predict that top-down processes are more important for structuring communities on sheltered than on exposed shores. To test the relative dominance of top-down processes, we first measured the establishment of key benthic species (mussels, barnacles and algae) on 3 sheltered and 3 exposed rocky shores in southwest Ireland over two 6 mo periods. We then manipulated the presence of consumers (e.g. grazing gastropods, crabs, whelks), using caged exclosures, on 2 sheltered and 2 exposed shores to test for an interaction between effects of consumers and shore exposure on the establishment of benthic species. In contrast to predictions, we found that consumers strongly affected establishment of all species regardless of shore exposure. We also found that shore exposure was not a reliable predictor for spatial and temporal variation in rates of establishment of sessile benthic species. Our findings provide experimental evidence which demonstrates the importance of consumers in early post-settlement stages of benthic species—essential for the development of benthic−pelagic models.

KEY WORDS: Algae · Barnacles · Consumers · Grazers · Mussels · Intertidal · Rocky shore

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Cite this article as: O’Connor NE, Donohue I, Crowe TP, Emmerson MC (2011) Importance of consumers on exposed and sheltered rocky shores. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 443:65-75.

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