, Volume 174, Issue 1, pp 67-75
Date: 31 Aug 2013

Trying to fit in: are patterns of orientation of a keystone grazer set by behavioural responses to ecosystem engineers or wave action?

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The distribution of animals varies at different temporal and spatial scales. At the smallest scale, distribution may be orientated in regard to particular environmental variables or habitat features. For animals on the rocky intertidal, the processes which set and maintain patterns of distribution and abundance in wave-exposed areas are well studied, with explanatory models focused on wave action and, more recently, the role of biogenic habitats. In contrast, patterns of orientation by intertidal animals have received less attention, although having ecological and fitness consequences. Here, we report tests of competing models to explain the observation that limpets on steeply sloped surfaces orientate downwards. A greater proportion of downwards-facing limpets was found in sheltered sites and areas without barnacles and this pattern was consistent across many shores and sampling occasions. Additionally, the frequency at which limpets were dislodged after a storm was independent of orientation. To test whether orientation is a behavioural response to habitat-forming barnacles, barnacles were removed and/or killed from patches of substrata and the change in proportion of downwards-facing limpets measured. The proportion increased with barnacle removal and this behaviour was a response to the structure of the barnacles, not a biotic effect associated with the living organism. Our study suggests that biogenic habitat not wave action sets patterns of limpet orientation and barnacle shells, regardless of whether the barnacle is alive or not, limit the ability of limpets to adopt a downward orientation.

Communicated by Craig Osenberg.