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Species richness and diversity in different functional groups across environmental stress gradients: a model for marine rocky shores


  • Ricardo A. Scrosati,

  • Barbara van Genne,

  • Christine S. Heaven,

  • Cortney A. Watt

R. A. Scrosati (, C. S. Heaven and C. A. Watt, Saint Francis Xavier Univ., Dept of Biology, Antigonish, NS B2G 2W5, Canada. – B. van Genne, Univ. of Groningen, Dept of Marine Benthic Ecology and Evolution, Kerklaan 30, NL-9751 NN Haren, The Netherlands.


We present a model predicting how the species richness and diversity within benthic functional groups should vary across the full environmental stress gradient across which a regional biota from marine rocky shores can occur. Built upon previous models, our model makes predictions for sessile species (macroalgae and filter feeders), herbivores, and carnivores. We tested some of its predictions by surveying vertical (intertidal elevation) and horizontal (wave exposure and ice scour) stress gradients in northern Nova Scotia, Canada. Because of harsh winter conditions, these coasts only depict approximately intermediate-to-high yearly levels of stress that the cold-temperate, rocky intertidal biota from the northwestern Atlantic can experience. The observed trends matched predictions for sessile species in 75% of the studied gradients, and showed a moderate agreement for herbivores and carnivores only when they were combined as mobile consumers. Agreement meant that both richness and diversity increased from the most stressful to the most benign habitats that can be found in northern Nova Scotia. Also as predicted, sessile species generally showed a faster rate of increase in richness than mobile consumers. Our model also predicted a higher overall richness for sessile species than for mobile consumers, which was true by a factor of 3. Therefore, our model may constitute a useful tool to understanding community composition as a function of abiotic stress, which may in turn facilitate studies on community functioning. Model predictions for lower stress ranges could be tested on more southern shores where the same regional biota occurs.

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