Habitat-forming species on rocky shores are often subject to high levels of exploitation, but the effects of subsequent habitat loss and fragmentation on associated species and the ecosystem as a whole are poorly understood. In this study, the effects of habitat amount on the fauna associated with mussel beds were investigated, testing for the existence of threshold effects at small landscape scales. Specifically, the relationships between mussel or algal habitat amount and: associated biodiversity, associated macrofaunal abundance and density of mussel recruits were studied at three sites (Kidd's Beach, Kayser's Beach and Kini Bay) on the southern and south-eastern coasts of South Africa. Samples, including mussel-associated macrofauna, of 10 x 10 cm were taken from areas with 100 % mussel cover (Perna perna or a combination of P. perna and Mytilus galloprovincialis) at each site. The amount of habitat provided by mussels and algae surrounding the sampled areas was thereafter determined at the 4.0 m(2) scale. A number of significant positive relationships were found between the amount of surrounding mussel habitat and the abundances of several taxa (Anthozoa, Malacostraca and Nemertea). Likewise, there were positive relationships between the amount of surrounding algal habitat and total animal abundance as well as abundance of mussel recruits at one site, Kini Bay. In contrast, abundance of mussel recruits showed a significant negative relationship with the amount of mussel habitat at Kayser's Beach. Significant negative relationships were also detected between the amount of mussel habitat and species richness and total abundance at Kidd's Beach, and between amount of mussel habitat and the abundance of many taxa (Bivalvia, Gastropoda, Maxillopoda, Ophiuroidea, Polychaeta and Pycnogonida) at all three sites. No threshold effects were found, nor were significant relationships consistent across the investigated sites. The results indicate that the surrounding landscape is important in shaping the structure of communities associated with these mussel beds, with significant effects of the amount of surrounding habitat per se. The strength and the direction of habitat effects vary, however, between shores and probably with the scale of observation as well as with the studied dependent variables (e.g. diversity, abundance, mussel recruitment, species identity), indicating the complexity of the processes structuring macrofaunal communities on these shores.
2014. Vol. 161, no 7, 1507-1519 p.