Phytobenthic communities in the Baltic Sea - seasonal patterns in settlement and succession

University dissertation from Stockholm : Institutionen för systemekologi

Abstract: Seasonal changes in reproduction, recruitment, occurrence and growth of marine plant and animal species is a common phenomenon world-wide. This thesis investigates whether such seasonal changes could determine the succession in subtidal phytobenthic communities on free space in the Baltic Sea. My results showed circular seasonal patterns both in the settlement of species and in the annual appearance of communities. The circular seasonal pattern was also observed in the succession. Initial species assemblages were determined by the time space became available for colonisation. Although the succession seemed to be directed towards one site-specific final community structure determined by physical factors, the time of the year when space became available influenced the rate of the succession through species interactions. Rapid growth and timing of settlement and free space occurrence allowed early species to occupy all available space and prevent further colonisation, thereby slowing the succession. My results also showed that both settlement and community structure are influenced by substrate characteristics. Studying community development on vertical artificial structures revealed communities with few species and different composition compared to communities on vertical natural substrates. A field study showed that settlement and community structure changed significantly between 60º and 90º substrate slopes. This thesis shows that some differences in the final community structure are determined already at the settlement stage and that the succession pattern varies depending on when free space occurs. However, small inter-annual and site-specific differences in seasonal settlement periods and site-specific final communities mainly determined by physical factors, suggest that succession patterns are relatively predictable. Seasonal changes seem to cause a spiralling succession towards a final, seasonally undulating, state.