, Volume 139, Issue 4, pp 630–640 | Cite as

Competitive interactions in macroinfaunal animals of exposed sandy beaches

  • Jenifer E. Dugan
  • Eduardo Jaramillo
  • David M. Hubbard
  • Heraldo Contreras
  • Cristian Duarte
Community Ecology


The influence of biotic interactions in structuring macroinfaunal communities of exposed sandy beaches, an unstable habitat characterized by strong physical forces, is generally considered negligible. We investigated the hypothesis that competitive interactions during burrowing could potentially affect the intertidal distribution and abundance of macroinfaunal animals of sandy beaches using two species of invertebrates, a hippid crab, Emerita analoga, and a bivalve, Mesodesma donacium, common along the coast of Chile. Spatial overlap in the intertidal distributions of these species was dynamic, varying with abundance, location, time of year and tide. Highest density zones of each species were often distinctly separated at low tide and spatial overlap in their distributions decreased significantly with increasing density, suggesting density dependence of the interactions. Negative relationships between densities of the two species at the smallest spatial scale examined also suggested active interactions among individuals. Over a tidal cycle, peak densities of the two species overlapped suggesting that interactions could occur frequently. Burrowing performance of E. analoga varied between size classes in three experimental densities of clams (5, 10 and 15 clams 0.008 m-2) and in controls with no clams. Burrowing times of large crabs were significantly longer (~twofold) in all densities of clams than in controls, while those of small crabs did not differ significantly among treatments and controls. Large crabs also displaced clams from the sand while burrowing suggesting that two mechanisms of direct interference can occur, both of which could increase exposure of individuals involved to active swash and transport across or along the beach with potentially negative consequences. Our results suggest that competitive interactions capable of affecting zonation and population and community biology on a number of scales can occur among burrowing macroinfauna on exposed sandy beaches. Those interactions could be more ecologically significant than previously appreciated and may contribute to patterns observed in community structure and zonation on sandy beaches. Our results illustrate the potential importance of negative biological interactions in a physically stressful environment.


Interference competition Intertidal zonation Burrowing 



We thank E. Daforno, M. H. Avellanal and S. Cifuentes for assistance in the field, and S. Silva and M. González for sample analyses. We are very grateful to S. Diehl, C. H. Peterson and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments on this manuscript. Financial support for this study and manuscript preparation was provided by CONICYT-CHILE (Proyecto FONDECYT nos. 7000423 and 1000423) and Proyecto MECESUP AUS 01–11 (Chile), Xunta de Galicia (Spain) and the National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research Program (USA).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jenifer E. Dugan
    • 1
  • Eduardo Jaramillo
    • 2
  • David M. Hubbard
    • 3
  • Heraldo Contreras
    • 2
  • Cristian Duarte
    • 2
  1. 1.Marine Science InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Instituto de ZoologiaUniversidad Austral de ChileValdiviaChile
  3. 3.Museum of Systematics and Ecology, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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