Density dependence, spatial scale and patterning in sessile biota
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Sessile biota can compete with or facilitate each other, and the interaction of facilitation and competition at different spatial scales is key to developing spatial patchiness and patterning. We examined density and scale dependence in a patterned, soft sediment mussel bed. We followed mussel growth and density at two spatial scales separated by four orders of magnitude. In summer, competition was important at both scales. In winter, there was net facilitation at the small scale with no evidence of density dependence at the large scale. The mechanism for facilitation is probably density dependent protection from wave dislodgement. Intraspecific interactions in soft sediment mussel beds thus vary both temporally and spatially. Our data support the idea that pattern formation in ecological systems arises from competition at large scales and facilitation at smaller scales, so far only shown in vegetation systems. The data, and a simple, heuristic model, also suggest that facilitative interactions in sessile biota are mediated by physical stress, and that interactions change in strength and sign along a spatial or temporal gradient of physical stress.