Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 439–461

Ocean waves, nearshore ecology, and natural selection


DOI: 10.1007/s10452-004-5409-8

Cite this article as:
Denny, M.W. Aquat Ecol (2006) 40: 439. doi:10.1007/s10452-004-5409-8


Although they are subjected to one of the most stressful physical environments on earth, wave-swept rocky shores support a highly diverse community of plants and animals. The surprising presence of such diversity amidst severe environmental adversity provides a unique opportunity for exploration of the role of extreme water flows in community ecology and natural selection. Methods are described by which the maximal water velocity and acceleration can be predicted for a site on the shore, and from these values maximal hydrodynamic forces are calculated. These forces can limit the range and foraging activity of some species, and can determine the rate of disturbance in others, but in general, wave-swept organisms have surprisingly high factors of safety. This apparent over-design can help to explain the diversity of forms present on wave-swept shores, and provides examples of how mechanics can limit the ability of natural selection to guide specialization. Although flow itself may commonly be prohibited from selecting for optima in morphology, it nonetheless continues to play a potentially important role in evolution by providing a mechanism for breaking or dislodging individuals that have been selected by other means.

Key words

Biomechanics Drag Intertidal communities Lift Wave theory 

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hopkins Marine StationStanford UniversityPacific GroveUSA