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Effects of interactions between algae and grazing gastropods on the structure of a low-shore intertidal algal community

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Summary

At low levels on shores in New South Wales, foliose algae are abundant and often occupy all substrata; microalgal grazing gastropods are rare or absent. At higher levels, foliose algae are sparse or absent and grazing gastropods are abundant. Hypotheses for the causes of the lower vertical limits of distribution of these grazers include the effects of increased predation or the deleterious physiological effects of increased period of submergence at lower levels on the shore. Alternatively, the presence of the algae, because they occupy space and deprive the grazers of substratum for feeding, may prevent the downward movement, or survival of the grazers at low levels. Under the first two of these hypotheses, algae are able to colonize and grow in low-shore areas as an indirect result of factors which remove grazers. Under the third hypothesis, the algae are directly responsible for the lack of grazers.

Experimental clearings of the low-shore algae and introductions of the mid-shore limpets Cellana tramoserica and Siphonaria denticulata were used to test these hypotheses.

C. tramoserica grazes microalgae and removes them from the substratum, preventing colonization. S. denticulata, in contrust, crops the algae, leaving a visible cover of algae on the substratum, which can grow rapidly. Because of its method of feeding, S. denticulata had no measurable impact on the rates of colonization, nor on the dry weights of algae, compared with those of ungrazed areas. C. tramoserica could keep cleared areas tree from foliose algae, but only when the limpets were mainfained in great density (10 per 900 cm2). They were less effective where wave-action was greater.

Neither species of limpets could survive when placed onto beds of mature algae, because they had no substratum on which to cling and were swept away by the waves. C. tramoserica did not invade clearings below their lower limit of distribution where they had to move over a bed of foliose algae. Few C. tramoserica moved directly downshore into cleared areas. When placed on bare rock within low-shore beds of algae of different ages, S. denticulata remained amongst the algae and maintained their tissue-weights. Few C. tramoserica remained in areas with well-developed algae, compared with areas having sparse algal growth. Those Cellana which remained amongst well-developed algae lost weight, whereas limpets in areas with less algal growth mammtained their weights. In experimental cages in low-shore beds of algae, where the limpets were inaccessible to potential predators, C. tramoserica lost weight and died. On cleared areas they survived for many weeks, but lost weight and died as algae grew and covered the substratum. In the absence of predation, the micro-algal grazer C. tramoserica could not survive in lowshore areas because algae grew too fast and occupied the substratum, making it inaccessible for the limpets to graze; the algae, once grown beyond small sporelings, are not a suitable food-source for C. tramoserica, and the loss of weight and death of these limpets is attributable to starvation.

The lower limit of distribution of C. tramoserica is not due to the direct effects of physical factors associated with prolonged submersion, nor to the impact of predators, but is apparently determined by the presence of rapidly growing, extensive beds of foliose algae at low levels on the shore. The cause of the limit of distribution of S. denticulata is not yet known and predation may prove to be important. Removal of S. denticulata from low-shore algal beds would not, however, affect the domination of substrata by algae. Grazing by S. denticulata at very great density had no effect on algal cover nor weight. In the intertidal community studied, the persistence of a low-shore algal zone, bounded above by abundant grazers is not influenced by the activities of predators, but is a direct result of interactions between the grazers and the algae.

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Underwood, A.J., Jernakoff, P. Effects of interactions between algae and grazing gastropods on the structure of a low-shore intertidal algal community. Oecologia 48, 221–233 (1981). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00347968

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