The effects of long-term exclusion of the limpet Cymbula oculus (Born) on the distribution of intertidal organisms on a rocky shore

13 Jun 2013

Zonation patterns on rocky shores are typically as a result of both physical factors and biological interactions. Physical factors generally set the upper limits of species distributions, while biological interactions generally set their lower limits. Recent research has shown, however, that biological factors often can also influence the upward recruitment and colonisation by species. While such evidence exists in the international literature, very little experimental evidence exists for South Africa. This study provided experimental evidence for the biological effects of long-term exclusion (2003-2008) of the South African herbivorous limpet Cymbula oculus (Born), on the community structure of the Kalk Bay rocky intertidal. To demonstrate this, an herbivore exclusion experiment was set up in the mid-Eulittoral zone in May 2003. Initially, all herbivores were removed from the exclusion plots; after one year, 2 only C. oculus individuals recruiting into the plots were continually removed. Algal recruitment (percent cover abundance) was determined monthly for the first 12 months and then annually thereafter, while invertebrate recruitment (density) was monitored only annually. The results firstly show that the natural density of C. oculus had increased dramatically during the first year (from 4.87 ± 1.09 individuals m-2 to 12.35 ± 1.70 individuals m-2, p = 0.001). Secondly, grazing by C. oculus is the primary biological factor preventing the recruitment and colonization of macroalgae and some invertebrates onto the Kalk Bay intertidal. Not only does herbivory by C. oculus prevent recruitment and colonization, but it also decreases algal diversity and prevents algal succession. Within the mid-Eulittoral zone of the Kalk Bay rocky intertidal, herbivory by C. oculus is thus more important in shaping this marine community than physical factors associated with desiccation stress.