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Ecology. 2013 Feb;94(2):489-98.

Cross-habitat interactions among bivalve species control community structure on intertidal flats.

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Department of Marine Benthic Ecology and Evolution, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (CEES), University of Groningen, P.O. Box 11103, 9700 CC Groningen, The Netherlands.


Increasing evidence shows that spatial interactions between sedentary organisms can structure communities and promote landscape complexity in many ecosystems. Here we tested the hypothesis that reef-forming mussels (Mytilus edulis L.), a dominant intertidal ecosystem engineer in the Wadden Sea, promote abundances of the burrowing bivalve Cerastoderma edule L. (cockle) in neighboring habitats at relatively long distances coastward from mussel beds. Field surveys within and around three mussel beds showed a peak in cockle densities at 50-100 m toward the coast from the mussel bed, while cockle abundances elsewhere in the study area were very low. Field transplantation of cockles showed higher survival of young cockles (2-3 years old) and increased spat fall coastward of the mussel bed compared to within the bed and to areas without mussels, whereas growth decreased within and coastward of the mussel bed. Our measurements suggest that the observed spatial patterns in cockle numbers resulted from (1) inhibition effects by the mussels close to the beds due to preemptive algal depletion and deteriorated sediment conditions and (2) facilitation effects by the mussels farther away from the beds due to reduction of wave energy. Our results imply that these spatial, scale-dependent interactions between reef-forming ecosystem engineers and surrounding communities of sedentary benthic organisms can be an important determinant of the large-scale community structure in intertidal ecosystems. Understanding this interplay between neighboring communities of sedentary species is therefore essential for effective conservation and restoration of soft-bottom intertidal communities.

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