, Volume 65, Issue 2, pp 91-102
Date: 19 May 2010

Species richness and diversity across rocky intertidal elevation gradients in Helgoland: testing predictions from an environmental stress model

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Environmental stress affects species richness and diversity in communities, but the precise form of the relationship is unclear. We tested an environmental stress model (ESM) that predicts a unimodal pattern for total richness and diversity in local communities across the full stress gradient where a regional biota can occur. In 2008, we measured richness and diversity (considering all macrobenthic species) across the entire intertidal range on three rocky shores on Helgoland Island, Germany. Intertidal elevation is known to be positively related to abiotic stress. Since Helgoland is between the northern and southern biogeographic boundaries for the cold-temperate NE Atlantic intertidal biota, it exhibits low stress levels for this biota at low elevations and high stress at high elevations because of long (>6 h) emersion times. Thus, we predicted a unimodal trend for richness and diversity across elevation. On all three shores, richness increased from high to middle elevations, but remained similar between middle and low elevations. Diversity followed the same trend on one shore and different trends (although also non-unimodal) on the other two. Evenness explained the trend differences between richness and diversity. Overall, our study yielded little support for the ESM. Reasons for richness and diversity not decreasing at low elevations may be related to influences of mostly subtidal species, Helgoland’s intertidal range, or sampling resolution. Our study also suggests that the ESM must be developed further to differentiate between richness and diversity. We offer recommendations to improve future ESM research using intertidal systems.