Aim: The physical characteristics of biogenic habitats and environmental conditions are important determinants of biodiversity, yet their relative importance can change across spatial scales. We aimed to understand how relationships between the physical characteristics of macroalgal habitats and their invertebrate communities varied across spatial scales and whether general ecological patterns occurred across two countries.
Location: Eighteen sites across the temperate east coasts of Australia (over 1,300 km) and New Zealand (over 1,000 km), with the latitudinal gradient in the two countries overlapping by 6.73 decimal degrees.
Time period: January to early April 2012.
Major taxa studied: Three intertidal macroalgal habitats in each country and the invertebrate communities within them.
Methods: We measured variation in patch- and individual-level characteristics of macroalgal habitats and their invertebrate communities. Patterns in macroalgal characteristics and communities were compared across latitude, and at smaller spatial scales, and correlated with 26 abiotic environmental variables using multiple multivariate analyses.
Results: Separately, macroalgal habitat characteristics and communities showed unusual but consistent nonlinear latitudinal patterns, with greater similarity among sites at the edges of the sampled distribution (i.e., north and south) than at centrally located sites. Macroalgal characteristics did not correlate with a particular set of environmental variables; however, communities were structured by sea surface temperature at the country scale and by macroalgal habitat type and biomass within countries. Anthropogenic variables were also important and may have contributed to the unusual nonlinear patterns observed between macroalgal characteristics and communities across latitude.
Main conclusions: Our results support other studies showing that large-scale patterns can emerge from systems where there is high local-scale variability. The results show that communities within macroalgal habitats respond to both the physical characteristics of the habitat and external environmental conditions (e.g., temperature), suggesting that local-scale environmental factors, including anthropogenic stressors, may modulate environmental gradients over larger scales.
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- community structure
- latitudinal gradient
- physical characteristics