Marine Biology

, Volume 160, Issue 12, pp 3209–3219 | Cite as

Limited change in the diversity and structure of subtidal communities over four decades

  • Robin ElahiEmail author
  • Charles Birkeland
  • Kenneth P. Sebens
  • Kevin R. Turner
  • Timothy R. Dwyer
Original Paper


A unique archive of photographs from 1969 to 1974 permitted a test of the hypothesis that the diversity and composition of contemporary epilithic communities on subtidal rock walls in the San Juan Islands, WA, USA, has changed over 40 years. Notably, the richness and diversity of sessile taxa was significantly higher in 2008–2011. Furthermore, the multivariate community structure of sessile and mobile taxa differed between the historic and modern eras. Historic communities were characterized by a high percent cover of bare rock and non-calcified algal crusts, consistent with the effects of grazing by chitons and urchins. The rate of sessile community turnover, an index less susceptible to spatial sampling artifacts than richness or diversity, was not significantly different between the two eras. Together with the naturally high spatial variability in these epilithic communities, and the limited replication of historic quadrats, we interpret cautiously the data as evidence of limited change despite a clear shift in temperature and predator (fish) guild composition. The lack of substantial change in rock wall communities may be due in part to their vertical topography, which limits physical disturbance and the preemption of space by weedy algae, two processes that are often associated with “phase-shifts” in other marine ecosystems.


Rock Wall Marine Reserve Bare Rock Kelp Forest Curtis Dissimilarity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are grateful for the assistance of many divers and boat captains throughout the years; in particular, we thank K. Kull, K. Matterson, B. McCollum, and A. Rhoades. W. Grover and B. Hough helped with image analysis, and J. Hille Ris Lambers, M. Mach, J. Ruesink, and R. Strathmann offered critical feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript. Comments from two anonymous reviewers refined the focus of the manuscript. Grants from the University of Washington, Biology Department, Friday Harbor Laboratories, and the National Science Foundation (DGE 0742559, OCE 0850809) funded this study. This manuscript is in partial fulfillment of a Ph.D. degree to R.E. from the Department of Biology at the University of Washington.

Supplementary material

227_2013_2308_MOESM1_ESM.docx (562 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 562 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin Elahi
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Charles Birkeland
    • 3
  • Kenneth P. Sebens
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Kevin R. Turner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Timothy R. Dwyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Friday Harbor LaboratoriesUniversity of WashingtonFriday HarborUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of WashingtonFriday HarborUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of Hawai’i at ManoaHonoluluUSA
  4. 4.School of Aquatic and Fisheries SciencesUniversity of WashingtonFriday HarborUSA

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