Spatial pattern of distribution of marine invertebrates within a subtidal community: do communities vary more among patches or plots?

Chun-Yi Chang, Dustin J Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Making links between ecological processes and the scales at which they operate is an enduring challenge of community ecology. Our understanding of ecological communities cannot advance if we do not distinguish larger scale processes from smaller ones. Variability at small spatial scales can be important because it carries information about biological interactions, which cannot be explained by environmental heterogeneity alone. Marine fouling communities are shaped by both the supply of larvae and competition for resources among colonizers—these two processes operate on distinctly different scales. Here, we demonstrate how fouling community structure varies with spatial scale in a temperate Australian environment, and we identify the spatial scale that captures the most variability. Community structure was quantified with both univariate (species richness and diversity) and multivariate (similarity in species composition) indices. Variation in community structure was unevenly distributed between the spatial scales that we examined. While variation in community structure within patch was usually greater than among patch, variation among patch was always significant. Opportunistic taxa that rely heavily on rapid colonization of free space spread more evenly among patches during early succession. In contrast, taxa that are strong adult competitors but slow colonizers spread more evenly among patches only during late succession. Our findings show significant patchiness can develop in a habitat showing no systematic environmental spatial variation, and this patchiness can be mediated through different biological factors at different spatial scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8330-8337
Number of pages8
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • community assembly
  • fouling
  • scale
  • sessile
  • succession
  • variance partitioning

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