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Complex, Dynamic Combination of Physical, Chemical and Nutritional Variables Controls Spatio-Temporal Variation of Sandy Beach Community Structure

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Ortega, K. , Smit, A. J. , Laudien, J. and Schoeman, D. S. (2011): Complex, Dynamic Combination of Physical, Chemical and Nutritional Variables Controls Spatio-Temporal Variation of Sandy Beach Community Structure , Public Library of Science, PLoS ONE., 6 (8), e23724 .
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Abstract:

Sandy beach ecological theory states that physical features of the beach control macrobenthic community structure on all but the most dissipative beaches. However, few studies have simultaneously evaluated the relative importance of physical, chemical and biological factors as potential explanatory variables for meso-scale spatio-temporal patterns of intertidal community structure in these systems. Here, we investigate macroinfaunal community structure of a micro-tidal sandy beach that is located on an oligotrophic subtropical coast and is influenced by seasonal estuarine input. We repeatedly sampled biological and environmental variables at a series of beach transects arranged at increasing distances from the estuary mouth. Sampling took place over a period of five months, corresponding with the transition between the dry and wet season. This allowed assessment of biological-physical relationships across chemical and nutritional gradients associated with a range of estuarine inputs. Physical, chemical, and biological response variables, as well as measures of community structure, showed significant spatio-temporal patterns. In general, bivariate relationships between biological and environmental variables were rare and weak. However, multivariate correlation approaches identified a variety of environmental variables (i.e., sampling session, the C:N ratio of particulate organic matter, dissolved inorganic nutrient concentrations, various size fractions of photopigment concentrations, salinity and, to a lesser extent, beach width and sediment kurtosis) that either alone or combined provided significant explanatory power for spatio-temporal patterns of macroinfaunal community structure. Overall, these results showed that the macrobenthic community on Mtunzini Beach was not structured primarily by physical factors, but instead by a complex and dynamic blend of nutritional, chemical and physical drivers. This emphasises the need to recognise ocean-exposed sandy beaches as functional ecosystems in their own right.

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