Distribution of algae on tropical rocky shores: spatial and temporal patterns of non-coralline encrusting algae in Hong Kong
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- Kaehler, S. & Williams, G.A. Marine Biology (1996) 125: 177. doi:10.1007/BF00350772
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Encrusting algae have been described as dominant space occupying species on rocky shores around the world. Despite their abundance, however, most studies classify species under generic names (e.g. Ralfsia sp.) or as a functional group (e.g. encrusting algae), thereby underestimating the number of species present and their ecological importance. Studies on six rocky shores of varying exposure, in Hong Kong, recorded eight common species of encrusting algae. The greatest abundance of encrusting algae was recorded on shores of intermediate exposure, where four distinct zonation bands could be identified; a cyanobacterial “Kyrtuthrix-Zone” in the upper midlittoral, a “Bare-Zone” below this, a “Mixed-Zone” in the lower midlittoral and a “Coralline-Zone” in the infralittoral fringe. Abundance declined on shores of greater and lower exposure to wave action, where bivalves and barnacles were competitively dominant. Certain species were found in greater abundance on exposed shores (e.g. Dermocarpa sp. and Hildenbrandia occidentalis), while others preferred more sheltered shores (e.g. Hildenbrandia prototypus and Kyrtuthrix maculans). With the exception of some cyanobacterial crusts, the abundance of encrusting algae was always greatest towards the low shore, an area of decreased physical stress and increased herbivore density. Zonation patterns showed seasonal variation associated with the monsoonal climate of Hong Kong. Most species increased in abundance during the cool season, while during the summer months the cover and vertical extent of encrusting algae decreased in relation to summer temperatures, although K. maculans increased in abundance during the summer. On Hong Kong shores, encrusting algae have a high species richness and exhibit within-functional group spatial and temporal variation which is mediated by herbivory and seasonal, physical stresses.