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Influence of static habitat attributes on local and regional Rocky intertidal community structure

January 1, 2017

Rocky intertidal communities are structured by local environmental drivers, which can be dynamic, fluctuating on various temporal scales, or static and not greatly varying across years. We examined the role of six static drivers (distance to freshwater, tidewater glacial presence, wave exposure, fetch, beach slope, and substrate composition) on intertidal community structure across the northern Gulf of Alaska. We hypothesized that community structure is less similar at the local scale compared with the regional scale, coinciding with static drivers being less similar on smaller than larger scales. We also hypothesized that static attributes mainly drive local biological community structure. For this, we surveyed five to six sites in each of the six regions in the mid and low intertidal strata. Across regions, static attributes were not consistently different and only small clusters of sites had similar attributes. Additionally, intertidal communities were less similar on the site compared with the region level. These results suggest that these biological communities are not strongly influenced by the local static attributes measured in this study. An alternative explanation is that static attributes among our regions are not different enough to influence the biological communities. This lack of evidence for a strong static driver may be a result of our site selection, which targeted rocky sheltered communities. This suggests that this habitat may be ideal to examine the influence of dynamic drivers. We recommend that future analyses of dynamic attributes may best be performed after analyses have demonstrated that sites do not differ in static attributes.

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