Sand-mediated divergence between shallow reef communities on horizontal and vertical substrata in the western Indian Ocean
Distinctions are rarely made between vertical and horizontal surfaces when assessing reef community composition, yet physical differences are expected because of hydrodynamic differences and sediment accumulation on flat surfaces. As sand often diminishes biotic cover, we hypothesised that vertical surfaces will support a greater biomass but have lower diversity due to domination by a few species. To test this, we quantified sessile communities on vertical and horizontal surfaces at three sites in the Delagoa Bioregion on the east coast of South Africa. Community composition consistently differed: vertical communities were dominated by various filter feeders, especially the ascidian Pyura stolonifera, whereas those on horizontal reef comprised a mixture of filter feeders and various algae. The total number of species and all diversity metrics were significantly greater for horizontal reef surfaces. Contrastingly, Simpson’s dominance and biomass were significantly greater for vertical reef surfaces. Percentage cover of sand explained much of the variation in community composition whereas depth did not. Small-scale topographic differences in substratum orientation associated with differences in sand inundation will therefore influence both α and β diversity. Coastal developments and activities that alter sand movements and delivery to the coastal zone are therefore likely to have a profound influence on the maintenance and diversity of shallow subtidal communities.
Keywords: community composition, Delagoa Bioregion, Maputaland, Pyura stolonifera, river discharge, sand inundation, sedimentation, subtidal zone