, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 23–31 | Cite as

Disturbance and predation in an assemblage of herbivorous Diptera and algae on rocky shores

  • Carlos Robles


Speculation about the effects of disturbance in marine benthic communities is often based on competition theory. Disturbances are thought to “provision” numerically depleted or competitively inferior species with resources associated with open substrate. However, disturbances that remove entire assemblages of sessile species also alter trophic structure, and thereby, influence the outcome of predator/prey relations. Aspects of community structure may be determined by patterns of disturbance and predation.

The influence of disturbance and predation on the distribution and seasonality of blooms of ephemeral algae and associated Diptera was investigated with field experiments at several rocky beaches in central California. Blooms of ephemeral algae developed on high intertidal rock faces that were subject to severe seasonal disturbances caused by shifting sediment. These were subsequently colonized by the herbivorous larvae of several Diptera species for predictable periods each year. Other areas, without blooms, were not so disturbed.

Experiments were done to determine if seasonal blooms were caused by seasonal disturbances that remove predators which otherwise might prevent the establishment of the Diptera/algae assemblage. The predators were crabs and limpets which eat both algae and larvae while foraging. Blooms of algae and larvae did not develop when limpets were transplanted to disturbed areas in periods between disturbances. Adjacent control areas did support blooms. Transplanted limpets did not survive periods of burial. When both limpets and crabs were excluded from treatment plots in undisturbed areas, blooms developed where they would not otherwise have occurred; controls remaied unchanged. Crabs and limpets differed in their effects on this assemblage. Crabs recruited quickly to the site of a bloom, but did not crop algal cover as closely, nor decrease larval density as much as the slowly recruiting limpets.

The results suggest that disturbances favor blooms of some species by reducing predation. Severe localized disturbances increased the variability of the upper shore community by creating a patchwork of differing predator/prey abundances.


Rocky Shore Larval Density Algal Cover Undisturbed Area Competition Theory 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Robles
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyCalifornia State UniversityLos AngelesUSA

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