Marine Biology

, Volume 77, Issue 2, pp 129-142

First online:

Use of artificial holes in studying community development in cryptic marine habitats in a tropical rocky intertidal region

  • B. A. MengeAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Oregon State UniversitySmithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • , L. R. AshkenasAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Oregon State UniversitySmithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • , A. MatsonAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Oregon State UniversitySmithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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Previous studies on the rocky intertidal shores of the Bay of Panama indicate that for many sessile and mobile organisms holes and crevices are important refuges from consumers. To study the dynamics of these hole-dwelling species assemblages, we devised a method allowing repetitive, non-destructive sampling and species manipulations in artificial holes. These are fiberglass sleeves with flanges at the outer edge that are inserted into receptacles made of quick-setting concrete. Predator and herbivore manipulations include: fences excluding slow-moving benthic consumers, bars across hole mouths restricting entry of large fishes and homogeneous (shelterless) surfaces created around a treatment decreasing abundance of small crabs. This design has withstood the rigors of two wet seasons in Panama. Results from two sites in Panama indicate that colonization occurs rapidly (6–7 months) in holes established in mid dry season. Encrusting fleshy algae (Ralfsia sp.) and ephemeral green algae (Cladophora spp.) colonize first and are succeeded by encrusting species of coralline algae, bryozoans and colonial tunicates and by erect fleshy red algae. Where consumers are present, encrusting corallines predominate; without consumers, bryozoans, tunicates and erect algae are more abundant. Zonation patterns develop within the holes, with the desiccation/heattolerant Ralfsia sp. dominating at the outer edges. With increasing deph, encrusting coralline algae, bryozoans and colonial tunicates reach their respective peak abundances. In contrast to the high variability observed among naturally occurring holes, replicates of each treatment tend to be similar. Between-treatment and between-site comparisons are less so. The naturally-occurring high level of small-scale patchiness is thus presumably due to variation in recruitment and in the local (microspatial) consumer regime. Substratum heterogeneity is therefore directly and indirectly important in maintaining a high local diversity in this community. As in other studies, consumers or disturbances are key factors in regulating patterns of community structure. More experiments of longer duration are necessary to ascertain the relative importances of consumers/disturbance and competition in controlling such assemblages.