The responses of a community to disturbance: The importance of successional age and species' life histories
- Department of Biological Sciences, University of California, 93106, Santa Barbara, California, USA
The responses of different successional stages of a temperate intertidal algal community to disturbance were investigated with a field experiment. The experiment was conducted in a low intertidal boulder field in southern California. In this habitat, the top surfaces of boulders are covered with algae. The composition of the assemblage on any particular boulder depends on the length of time since it was last overturned by wave action. When a boulder is overturned, the algae on what was formerly the top surface, are killed in whole or part by a combination of sea urchin grazing, anoxia, light levels below compensation intensity, and mechanical damage caused by crushing or abrasion. The length of time that a boulder remains overturned and the local abundance of sea urchins determines the intensity of the disturbance. When the boulder is righted, recolonization begins either by vegetative regrowth of survivors and/or by spores from outside. Using a three-factorial design, this natural form of disturbance was experimentally mimicked and the responses of three different successional stages of the algal community monitored. Boulders in each successional category were overturned for periods of 17, 27 and 54 days in areas with and without sea urchins, then righted. Two aspects of community response to perturbation were evaluated. These were (1) the assemblage's ability to resist change and (2) its ability, if altered, to adjust to some semblance of its original state. The resistance of each assemblage and of its component species to change was measured by the percent decrease in algal cover and by the decline in percent similarity of the community to its original composition. The recovery rate of each assemblage and of the cover lost by each species during the first 35 days following a disturbance was measured by the rate of increase in percent similarity to the original composition and the percent reestablishment of lost cover. The experimental evidence demonstrates that the successional stages of the producer level of an intertidal algal community differ significantly in their responses to disturbance. Early successional communities suffer more damage from a given level of perturbation but recover more quickly than either middle or late successional communities. Damage to any particular assemblage of algae, irrespective of successional age, is more extensive and recovery slower, the longer the boulder is overturned and/or sea urchins are present. Several thresholds in these responses were also identified. Differences in community responses and non-linearities in these responses were attributable to the life history characteristics of the component species rather than emergent properties of the assemblage. These characteristics have evolved in response to a variety of recurrent natural disturbances. This interpretation is in agreement with recent critical reevaluations of the trends and mechanisms of successional change in natural communities.
- 1 - sciences appliquees, technologies et medecines
- 2 - sciences biologiques et medicales
- 3 - sciences biologiques fondamentales et appliquees. psychologie
- 4 - phytopathologie. zoologie agricole. protection des cultures et des forets
- 1 - Life Sciences ; 2 - Agricultural and Biological Sciences ; 3 - Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics