How recruitment, intraspecific interactions, and predation control species borders in a tidal estuary
We examined the relative contribution of recruitment, intraspecific species interactions, and predation in controlling the upper intertidal border of the northern acorn barnacle, Semibalanusbalanoides, in a tidal estuary in Maine. We hypothesized that the contracted border at sites that experienced low tidal currents was due to flow-mediated recruitment that resulted in reduced survival due to the absence of neighbor buffering of thermal stress (i.e., positive intraspecific interactions). We tested this hypothesis by manipulating the density of recently settled barnacles and their thermal environment in a field experiment. Counter to our original hypothesis, barnacles with neighbors suffered severe mortality at low-flow sites. When density-dependent predation by the green crab (Carcinusmaenus) was experimentally eliminated, however, we did detect evidence for positive interactions at the low-flow sites but not at the high-flow sites. In spite of the close proximity of the sites, maximum daily rock temperatures at the low-flow sites were slightly, but consistently, greater than those at high-flow sites. Our findings suggest that the upper intertidal border of S. balanoides in the Damariscotta River is limited at low-flow sites by a combination of reduced recruitment, elevated mortality from thermal stress and enhanced predation by green crabs. More generally, our findings highlight how physical stress and predation interact to alter the nature of density-dependent species interactions in natural assemblages.
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