Intercontinental tests of the effects of habitat patch type on the distribution of chitons within and among patches in intertidal boulder field landscapes
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- Liversage, K., Cole, V.J., McQuaid, C.D. et al. Mar Biol (2012) 159: 2777. doi:10.1007/s00227-012-2038-y
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Patchy distributions within landscapes may be caused by migration in response to different types of habitat patches. Intertidal boulder fields are landscapes in which boulders are discrete habitat patches, often with chitons attached to their under-surfaces. Chiton densities and associations with patch edges differed between boulders overlying coarse- versus fine-sediment types, with greater densities occurring over fine sediments. We tested whether adult migration caused between-boulder distributions by measuring immigration and emigration following experimental replacement of coarse sediments with fine sediment under boulders. We also assessed whether the manipulations altered chiton positions relative to patch edges, and large-scale generality was tested by including data from two continents. The manipulations did not influence the association of chitons with edges or amounts of emigration, but chitons did display positive density-dependent immigration that mirrored their distributional patterns, indicating the importance of immigration. Strikingly, all results were consistent between continents despite involving different species and even genera of chitons. By using boulder fields as a small-scale, easily manipulated landscape, we show that, even in sedentary organisms, patchy distributions within landscapes can be caused by migration alone, without the need to invoke mortality or larval recruitment.