, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 12–19

Overgrowth in a marine epifaumal community: Competitive hierarchies and competitive networks

  • Garry R. Russ

DOI: 10.1007/BF00377130

Cite this article as:
Russ, G.R. Oecologia (1982) 53: 12. doi:10.1007/BF00377130


The frequencies with which organisms of a species overgrew or were overgrown by organisms of other species in a marine epifaunal community were estimated. The ranking of the ability of the major taxonomic groups to overgrow others was basically hierarchical:ascidians≧sponges>bryozoans>barnacles, polychaetes, tubicolous amphipods, hydroids. In contrast, the ranking of the competitive ability of species in the community did not form a simple linear hierarchy and there was no single competitively dominant species (measured in terms of overgrowth). There were often no significant differences in the ability of species to overgrow each other within the three major taxonomic groups of sponges, ascidians and bryozoans. Such results were common also between the species of large sponges and ascidiams which dominated substrata immersed for periods longer than two years.

A lack of a significant difference in the competitive ability of species was usually the result of (a) frequent formation of delay/ties or “standoffs” and (b) changes in the outcome of interactions due to change in the relative size of interacting colonies. In many two-species interactions the species which had the larger colony in a given encounter had a greater probability of winning.

When the range of colony sizes of two species was similar there was often no significant difference between the competitive ability of each species. Such cases without a clearcut winner often represented a backloop in an otherwise hierarchical sequence of competitive ability, i.e. Species A beats Species B, Species B beats Species C, no significant differences in competitive ability between Species C and A. No examples of competitive networks of the form Species A beats Species B, Species B beats Species C, Species C beats Species A were found. Backloops in otherwise hierarchical sequences (no significant differences in competitive ability) occurred most frequently between species within the same major taxonomic groups and were the result of a very even balance in the generalised competitive mechanism of overgrowth.

It seems probable that backloops in hierarchical sequences are more commonly due to the absence of clear competitive dominance in interactions between species (reversals in the outcome of overgrowth interactions and “standoffs”), rather than to direct backloops formed by a specialised or to a generalised competitive mechanism. Network-like arrangements of competitive ability formed by the type of processes described here are likely to contribute significantly to the high levels of species diversity observed in many marine epifaunal communities subject to low levels of physical disturbance.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Garry R. Russ
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsville M.S.O.Australia