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Abiotic/Biological Interactions in Coastal Marine Communities: Insights from an Alaskan Fjord

Blanchard, Arny L., Feder, Howard M., Hoberg, Max K., Knowlton, Ann L.
Estuaries and coasts 2017 v.40 no.5 pp. 1398-1417
benthic organisms, climate, community structure, fauna, flora, littoral zone, marine ecosystems, predators, refuge habitats, research programs, retrospective studies, salinity, suspended sediment, Alaska, Arctic region
Interactions among multi-scale coastal marine ecosystem processes can be expected to play large roles in and interact with biological processes as stresses increase, potentially allowing interfering processes (including biological interactions) to become more prevalent. Retrospective analyses of intertidal (1988–1992) and subtidal (1971–2012) species compositions from a long-term ecological research program in Port Valdez, Alaska evaluated associations between benthic community structure and physical conditions to better understand interactions between regional to local processes on flora and fauna. Low salinity, habitat structure (varying from mudflats to rocky shores over a distance of <18 km), and suspended sediments contributed to intertidal community structure via elimination of predators from low-salinity prey refugia. Subtidal communities demonstrate adjustments by macrofauna to sedimentation with smaller, disturbance-tolerant fauna towards the head of the fjord as well as effects from depth-related covariates. Shared ecological processes result in comparable community trends in subtidal and intertidal habitats among subarctic and arctic fjords and similarly among coastal environments of the North Pacific. Control exerted by interactions among climatic, oceanographic, and local processes interacting with biota contributes to the direction and length of recovery from disturbance events and environmental changes. Feedbacks, mediation of recovery by additional processes, and strengths of interactions also play important roles in determining interaction outcomes. Interactions among local, regional, and global-scale processes may become critical sources of change as global ecosystem transitions through new climate states.