Spatial variability, structure and composition of crustose algal communities in Diadema africanum barrens
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Crustose algal communities were studied in Diadema africanum urchin barrens around Tenerife (Canary Islands, NE Atlantic). A hierarchical nested sampling design was used to study patterns of community variability at different spatial scales (sectors, three sides of the island; sites within each sector, 5–10 km apart; stations within each site, 50–100 m apart). Although noncrustose species contributed the most to community richness, cover was dominated by crustose forms, like the coralline algae Hydrolithon farinosum, H. samoe¨nse, H. onkodes, Neogoniolithon orotavicum and N. hirtum, and the phaeophycean Pseudolithoderma adriaticum. The structure of these communities showed high spatial variability, and we found differences in the structure of urchin barrens when compared across different spatial scales. Multivariate analysis showed that variability in community structure was related to the five environmental variables studied (wave exposure, urchin density, substrate roughness, productivity and depth). Wave exposure was the variable that contributed most to community variability, followed by urchin density and substrate roughness. Productivity and depth had limited influence. The effects of these variables differed depending on the spatial scale; wave exposure and productivity were the main variables influencing community changes at the largest scale (between different sectors of the island), while D. africanum density, roughness and depth were the most influential at medium and small scales.