Surfzone hydrodynamics as a key determinant of spatial variation in rocky intertidal communities.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.1017
Larvae of intertidal species develop at sea and must return to adult habitats to replenish populations. Similarly, nutrients, detritus and plankton provide important subsidies spurring growth and reproduction of macroalgae and filter-feeding invertebrates that form the foundation of intertidal communities. Together, these factors determine the density and intensity of interactions among community members. We hypothesized that spatial variation in surfzone hydrodynamics affects the delivery of plankton subsidies. We compared entire zooplankton communities inside and outside the surf zone daily while monitoring physical conditions for one month each at two shores with different surfzone characteristics. Opposite cross-shore distributions of larvae and other zooplankters occurred at the two sites: zooplankton was much more abundant inside the mildly sloping dissipative surf zone (DSZ) with rip currents and was more abundant outside the steep reflective surf zone (RSZ). Biophysical numerical simulations demonstrated that zooplankters were concentrated in rip channels of the DSZ and were mostly unable to enter the RSZ, indicating the hydrodynamic processes behind the observed spatial variation of zooplankters in the surf zone. Differences in the concentration of larvae and other zooplankters between the inner shelf and surf zone may be an underappreciated, key determinant of spatial variation in inshore communities.