Subtidal benthic heterogeneity: flow environment modification and impacts on marine algal community structure and morphology
The shallow subtidal zone of rocky coastlines is a highly dynamic environment characterized by micro- and macroscopic benthic structures that alter the ambient flow environment, creating "flow microhabitats." We examined the impact of macroscopic benthic structure on the maximum flow speeds and the corresponding macroalgal community cover and morphological diversity observed in response to microhabitats in both exposed and sheltered near-shore sites. Flow speeds were reduced by a factor of 2 within crevices and also in the flow-shadow of protruding rock substrate when compared to neighboring unobstructed planar rnicrohabitats. Algal communities within crevices and in the wake of protrusions were found to have greater cover of foliose red algal species compared to horizontal microhabitats in exposed sites, but reduced cover of these species in sheltered sites. The morphologies of two rhodophytes common to all microhabitats, Chondracanthus spinosus and Pterocladiella capillacea, were examined at both exposed and sheltered sites. Exposed horizontal morphotypes of both species were generally smaller and streamlined, whereas thalli from within crevices and in the wake of protrusions were larger and bushier. We conclude that algal cover and morphology is affected by the alteration in flow around both protruding bodies and crevices when compared to unobstructed sites.