African Journal of Marine Science

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Patterns of diversity along experimental gradients of disturbance and nutrient supply — the confounding assumptions of the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis

MC Pfaff, C Hiebenthal, M Molis, GM Branch, M Wahl


A model of the interactive effects of disturbance and productivity on diversity predicts peak diversity to shift towards higher disturbance regimes as productivity increases, confining the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis to intermediate productivity levels. We conducted a two-factorial (disturbance, nutrients) field experiment to test the validity of this model for two subtropical intertidal rocky shores. Treatment responses varied between distinct community types at two sites. Intensified disturbance increased evenness, and under high nutrient enrichment decreased species richness of communities dominated by encrusting algae, whereas turf-dominated communities remained unaffected. Nutrient additions increased biomass and modulated community composition at both sites, in addition to increasing species richness in encrusting-algal and decreasing evenness of turf-forming assemblages. Thus, only highly enriched encrusting-algal communities followed the model predictions. Different mechanisms appear to control species coexistence in different types of communities, some violating the assumptions of the tested model, i.e. resource limitation and competitive exclusion.

Keywords: coexistence; community structure; disturbance; evenness; intertidal rocky shores; nutrient enrichment; South Africa; species richness

African Journal of Marine Science 2010, 32(1): 127–135
AJOL African Journals Online