, Volume 111, Issue 3, pp 331-340

Patchy recruitment patterns in marine invertebrates: a spatial test of the density-dependent hypothesis in the bivalve Spisula ovalis

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Density-dependent and density-independent processes have been shown to influence the population dynamics of marine invertebrates, especially recruitment. However, their relative importance has not been evaluated in natural populations. High adult densities have been suggested to inhibit recruitment, especially in suspension-feeders which may ingest incoming larvae. Age structure and juvenile abundance were investigated in the bivalve Spisula ovalis in order to evaluate the importance of density dependence in generating spatial patterns. Age structure is readily established in this species owing to annual shell lines. An extensive sample (from about 100 sites a few hundred meters apart over 4 consecutive years) was analyzed in the statistical framework of spatial analyses, avoiding spurious correlations due to non-independence between neighboring sites. The area studied supports about ten annual cohorts, though only a few occur at each site. The overall picture is a mosaic of kilometer-scale patches of contrasted age structures, as revealed by highly significant spatial autocorrelations. To our knowledge, such large-scale spatial patterns in age structure have not previously been described in benthic invertebrates. Strong patterns are detected even for juveniles, and are independent of the adult biomass present before settlement. Therefore, patchy patterns of age structure mainly reflect density-independent effects, such as spatial variations in larval supply, passive transport of juveniles, or predation on recruits. In the absence of detailed spatial analyses, such patterns have been misinterpreted previously as negative effects of adult density on settlement success.

Received: 21 November 1996 / Accepted: 20 February 1997