The mechanisms that determine zonation patterns are often broken down into the categories of physical and biological factors, and it is a combination of these that determines each site's biological characteristics. The mixed semidiurnal tides in central California result in drying and wetting cycles that vary greatly over small vertical distances of shoreline. Some of these sharp break points are associated with well defined boundaries between zones, and have been termed critical tide levels (Doty 1946). Tides influence temperature, light, nutrient availability and salinity in addition to simple desiccation, and all of these factors have been shown to affect growth and reproduction of intertidal species (Connell 1972, Ricketts et al. 1985, Foster et al. 1988, 1991). However, with the increased use of field experiments, it is now clear that zonation of organisms at many sites is also caused by biological factors. For example predation by sea stars in the low zone may set the lower limit of the mussels (Paine 1974). It has also been demonstrated that competition for space (e.g., Connell 1961, Lubchenco 1980, Foster 1982), grazing (e.g. Robles and Cubit 1981, Underwood and Jernakoff 1984), settlement and recruitment (e.g. Grosberg 1982, Underwood and Denley 1984, Connell 1985), associations between species (Dayton 1975) and movement behavior (e.g. Frank 1965, Wolcott 1973, Phillips 1976) can influence zonation patterns.
Other, more stable microhabitats also cause patchiness within zones. For example, species such as crabs are better adapted to living in cracks and crevices (Ricketts et al. 1985). Tide pools also have a unique assemblage of species, often including fish that have the ability to home to specific pools (e.g. Yoshiyama et al. 1992). As with disturbance events, the size, shape and location of the tidepool will influence the associated assemblage of species (Metaxas and Scheibling 1993). Substratum type, relief and aspect are also important contributors to the patchy patterns we observe within intertidal zones (Foster et al. 1988).
Direct biological factors such as grazing, predation, dispersal limits, and larval recruitment behavior cause patchy patterns (Foster et al. 1988); moreover, there is increasing evidence of the importance of complex interactions between these factors, as well as indirect interactions (e.g. Jernakoff 1983, Dungan 1986, Wootton 1993). For example, the large territorial limpet, Lottia gigantea, creates a garden of microscopic algae by bulldozing away other species (Stimpson 1970) while its mucus trail enhances growth of the algae it feeds upon (Connor and Quinn 1984). Algal abundance can also be enhanced by the presence of barnacles that form barriers to most grazing limpets (Jernakoff 1983). If the additional factor of bird predation on limpets is considered (Hahn and Denny 1989), then it becomes clear that seemingly simple explanations for distribution patterns are not complete without assessing the indirect role of the other species in the local rocky shore assemblage (Wootton 1993).
If sites are examined within a range of latitudes, biogeographic patterns become apparent. Recognized biogeographic breaks in California occur at Cape Mendicino, Monterey Bay and Point Conception, and species are characterized as having northern and southern affinities relative to these breaks (Foster et al. 1988, 1991, Barry et al. 1995). Biogeographic breaks are presumably caused by temperature and other factors associated with water masses of major current systems (Hayden and Dolan 1976, Foster et al. 1988). Large expanses of sand habitats, such as the beaches of Monterey Bay, may also create dispersal barriers for rocky shore species. However, in the case of the Monterey Bay break, the patterns may also be an artifact caused by the intense collecting for taxonomic studies associated with the Hopkins Marine Station (see Biological Diversity) and the paucity of collections from the relatively inaccessible Big Sur coastline.
Nevertheless, there are clear biogeographic patterns in species distribution and population regulation phenomena, such as in the black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii) population collapse in the southeastern Channel Islands (Richards and Davis 1993) and the influence of upwelling on intertidal fish biogeographic provinces (Stepien et al. 1991).
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Rocky Intertidal Habitats - Table of Contents