Scientia Marina, Vol 74, No 1 (2010)

Hard-bottom succession of subtidal epibenthic communities colonizing hidden and exposed surfaces off northern Chile

Aldo S. Pacheco
Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research , Germany

Facultad de Recursos del Mar, Universidad de Antofagasta, Chile

Jürgen Laudien
Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research , Germany

Institute for Applied Ecology Ltd, D-18184 Broderstorf, Germany

Martin Thiel
Facultad de Ciencias del Mar, Universidad Católica del Norte , Chile

Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), Coquimbo, Chile

Olaf Heilmayer
Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research , Germany

Marcelo Oliva
Facultad de Recursos del Mar, Universidad de Antofagasta , Chile


The biodiversity of hard-bottom substrata comprises species growing on exposed rock and in hidden microhabitats, such as cracks and crevices. This study examines the succession of epibenthic organisms colonizing an artificial substratum with one surface exposed and one surface hidden on a vertical wall off northern Chile. On each sampling date species coverage of three replicate panels on both surfaces was assessed. The hidden surface was dominated in terms of coverage by the bryozoans Membranipora isabelleana and Lagenicella variabilis, while algae were absent. In contrast, the exposed surface was dominated by encrusting red corallines and the red alga Rhodymenia corallina. At the end of the experimental period both surfaces were dominated by colonial suspension feeders, but showed a different community structure and successional pattern. On the exposed surface, competitive exclusion was identified as an important aspect of succession, whereas on the hidden surface this pattern was not observed. These findings have implications for overall biodiversity, because pioneer species that are not able to survive long periods on exposed surfaces become restricted to hidden surfaces, from where they spread laterally. Thus, hidden microhabitats provide refuges for certain species, and may play an important role in the overall succession on rock faces. We conclude that examination of hidden microhabitats is necessary in order to fully understand succession in hard-bottom habitats.


habitat complexity; epibenthic hard-bottom communities; succession; Peninsula Mejillones; Humboldt Current System

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