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Keywords:

  • Colonization;
  • feeding guilds;
  • polychaetes;
  • rocky cliffs;
  • succession

Abstract

Ecological succession has been scarcely investigated on sublittoral rocky cliffs. The few relevant studies deal with the structure of the developing community and are limited to higher taxa or sessile forms. The objective of the present study was to examine succession patterns on algal-dominated rocky cliffs both at the structural (species composition) and functional (feeding guild composition) level, using Polychaeta, a dominant taxon in this marine habitat, as a reference group. Cement panels were seasonally installed on the rocky substratum (25–30 m depth) and sampled every 3 months over a 1-year period. Twenty-nine polychaete species were recorded, previously reported from the surrounding benthic community, and classified into eight feeding guilds. Most species were assigned as sessile filter-feeders; this guild dominated in abundance and biomass. A strong effect of the length of immersion and of the seasonal onset of succession on the developed communities was assessed: species composition analyses suggested convergence into a similar organization as succession proceeds, whereas the impact of starting season on succession was stronger when analysing feeding guilds. In both cases succession was faster on panels installed in winter. The main emerging patterns were in agreement with relevant surveys of the entire benthic fauna, thus supporting the efficacy of polychaetes as a surrogate group for studying ecological succession in the benthic marine environment.