Integrating edge effects into studies of habitat fragmentation: a test using meiofauna in seagrass
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Habitat fragmentation is thought to be an important process structuring landscapes in marine and estuarine environments, but effects on fauna are poorly understood, in part because of a focus on patchiness rather than fragmentation. Furthermore, despite concomitant increases in perimeter:area ratios with fragmentation, we have little understanding of how fauna change from patch edges to interiors during fragmentation. Densities of meiofauna were measured at different distances across the edges of four artificial seagrass treatments [continuous, fragmented, procedural control (to control for disturbance by fragmenting then restoring experimental plots), and patchy] 1 day, 1 week and 1 month after fragmentation. Experimental plots were established 1 week prior to fragmentation/disturbance. Samples were numerically dominated by harpacticoid copepods, densities of which were greater at the edge than 0.5 m into patches for continuous, procedural control and patchy treatments; densities were similar between the edge and 0.5 m in fragmented patches. For taxa that demonstrated edge effects, densities exhibited log-linear declines to 0.5 m into a patch with no differences observed between 0.5 m and 1 m into continuous treatments. In patchy treatments densities were similar at the internal and external edges for many taxa. The strong positive edge effect (higher densities at edge than interior) for taxa such as harpacticoid copepods implies some benefit of patchy landscapes. But the lack of edge effects during patch fragmentation itself demonstrates the importance of the mechanisms by which habitats become patchy.
KeywordsLandscape ecology Harpacticoid copepod Seagrass Edge effects Fragmentation Artificial seagrass units
We thank G. Walker-Smith for help with harpacticoid identification; T. Smith, R. Watson and D. Hatton for field assistance; and M. Keough for statistical assistance. We are grateful to the Australian Research Council for a grant to R.M.C., J.S.H. and G.P.J., and the Victorian Marine Science Consortium for use of facilities. The experiments presented here comply with Australia law.
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