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Influence of disturbance and nutrient enrichment on early successional fouling communities in an oligotrophic marine system


João Canning-Clode, Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Kiel, Duesternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany.


Disturbance and productivity are often cited as the main factors determining temporal and spatial patterns in species distribution and the diversity of communities. A field experiment was conducted to test the role of these factors in the structuring of early successional fouling communities in a nutrient limited system at the south coast of Madeira Island. Macro-benthic sessile communities, established on artificial settlement substrata, were manipulated and surveyed over a 9-week period. We applied mechanical disturbances of four different frequencies crossed with three levels of inorganic nutrient enrichment. Fertilization enhanced community diversity by favouring the establishment and growth of macroalgae. Disturbance reduced diversity by eliminating species – but only at the highest nutrient level. This is explained by a multiple-stressor model; species most sensitive to nutrient deficiency (only present in the highest enrichment treatment) were simultaneously the most sensitive to disturbance.