Comparing community structure on shells of the abalone Haliotis midae and adjacent rock: implications for biodiversity
Branch, George M.
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This paper concerns the effects on biodiversity of depletion 24 of the South African abalone Haliotis midae, which is a long-lived species with a large corrugated shell that provides a habitat for diverse benthic organisms. We compared community structure on H. midae shells with that on adjacent rock at three sites (Cape Point and Danger Point sites A and B), and at two different times of the year at one of these sites. Shells of H. midae consistently supported communities that were distinctly different from those on rock. In particular, three species of non-geniculate (encrusting) corallines, Titanoderma polycephalum, Mesophyllum engelhartii and Spongites discoideus were all found either exclusively or predominantly on shells, whereas another non-geniculate coralline, Heydrichia woelkerlingii, occurred almost exclusively on adjacent rock. The primary rocky substratum, however, supported a higher number of species than abalone shells. Possible reasons for the differences between the two substrata include the relative age, microtopography and hardness of the substrata; the abundance of grazers on them; and the relative age of different zones of the abalone shell, which support communities at different stages of succession. Diversity on shells was lowest in zones that were either very young or very old, in keeping with the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. The distinctiveness of shell epibiota will increase diversity despite having a lower diversity than that of adjacent rock. Decimation of H. midae by overfishing therefore has implications biodiversity conservation.