Bioprotection and disturbance: Seaweed, microclimatic stability and conditions for mechanical weathering in the intertidal zone

Coombes, M. A., Naylor, L. A. , Viles, H. A. and Thompson, R. C. (2013) Bioprotection and disturbance: Seaweed, microclimatic stability and conditions for mechanical weathering in the intertidal zone. Geomorphology, 202, pp. 4-14. (doi: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2012.09.014)

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As well as their destructive roles, plants, animals and microorganisms contribute to geomorphology and ecology via direct and indirect bioprotection, which can reduce weathering and erosion. For example, indirect bioprotection can operate via biotic influences on microclimate whereby physical decay processes associated with fluctuations in temperature and moisture (salt crystallization, thermal fatigue and wetting–drying), are limited. In the intertidal zone, the spatial and temporal distribution of macroalgae (seaweeds) is patchy, related to physical and ecological conditions for colonization and growth, and the nature and frequency of natural and anthropogenic disturbance. We examined the influence of seaweed canopies (Fucus spp.) on near-surface microclimate and, by implication, on conditions for mechanical rock decay and under-canopy ecology. Monitoring on hard artificial coastal structures in South West England, UK, built from limestone and concrete showed that both the range and maxima of daily summertime temperatures were significantly lower, by an average of 56% and 25%, respectively, in areas colonized by seaweed compared to experimentally cleared areas. Short-term microclimatic variability (minutes–hours) was also significantly reduced, by an average of 78% for temperature and 71% for humidity, under algal canopies during low-tide events. Using seaweed as an example, we develop a conceptual model of the relationship between biological cover and microclimate in the intertidal zone. Disturbance events that remove or drastically reduce seaweed cover mediate shifts between relatively stable and unstable states with respect to mechanical decay and ecological stress associated with heat and desiccation. In urban coastal environments where disturbance may be frequent, facilitating the establishment and recovery of canopy-forming species on rocks and engineered structures could enhance the durability of construction materials as well as support conservation, planning and policy targets for biodiversity enhancement.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Naylor, Dr Larissa
Authors: Coombes, M. A., Naylor, L. A., Viles, H. A., and Thompson, R. C.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Journal Name:Geomorphology
ISSN (Online):1872-695X

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