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Title: Slow Community Development Enhances Abiotic Limitation of Benthic Community Structure in a High Arctic Kelp Bed
We examined the patterns of propagule recruitment to assess the timescale and trajectory of succession and the possible roles of physical factors in controlling benthic community structure in a shallow High Arctic kelp bed in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska. Spatial differences in established epilithic assemblages were evaluated against static habitat attributes (depth, distance from river inputs) and environmental factors (temperature, salinity, current speed, underwater light) collected continuously over 2–6 years. Our measurements revealed that bottom waters remained below freezing (mean winter temperatures ∼−1.8°C) and saline (33–36) with negligible light levels for 8–9 months. In contrast, the summer open water period was characterized by variable salinities (22–36), higher temperatures (up to 8–9°C) and measurable irradiance (1–8 mol photons m –2 day –1 ). An inshore, near-river site experienced strong, acute, springtime drops in salinity to nearly 0 in some years. The epilithic community was dominated by foliose red algae (47–79%), prostrate kelps (2–19%), and crustose coralline algae (0–19%). Strong spatial distinctions among sites included a positive correlation between cover by crustose coralline algae and distance to river inputs, but we found no significant relationships between multi-year means of physical factors and functional groups. Low rates of colonization and the very slow more » growth rates of recruits are the main factors that contribute to prolonged community development, which augments the influence of low-frequency physical events over local community structure. Mortality during early succession largely determines crustose coralline algal and invertebrate prevalence in the established community, while kelp seem to be recruitment-limited. On scales > 1 m, community structure varies with bathymetry and exposure to freshwater intrusion, which regulate frequency of primary and physiological disturbance. Colonization rates (means of 3.3–69.9 ind. 100 cm –1 year –1 site –1 ) were much lower than studies in other Arctic kelp habitats, and likely reflect the nature of a truly High Arctic environment. Our results suggest that community development in the nearshore Beaufort Sea occurs over decades, and is affected by combinations of recruitment limitation, primary disturbance, and abiotic stressors. While seasonality exerts strong influence on Arctic systems, static habitat characteristics largely determine benthic ecosystem structure by integrating seasonal and interannual variability over timescales longer than most ecological studies. « less
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Frontiers in Marine Science
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Synopsis

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  2. Abstract

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