Influence of occupant microhabitat on the composition of encrusting communities on gastropod shells

James John Bell

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18 Citations (SciVal)


The exploitation of microhabitats is widely considered to increase biodiversity in marine ecosystems. Although intertidal hermit crabs and gastropods may inhabit the same shell type and shore level, their microhabitat may differ depending on the state of the tide. On the south coast of Wales the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus mainly inhabits the shells of Nucella lapillus (84%). Hermit crab shells had a significantly different encrusting community compared with live N. lapillus shells. At low tide the live gastropods were found on exposed rock surfaces whereas hermit crabs were restricted to tidal pools. Communities encrusting live gastropod shells were characterised by lower species richness and abundance compared with shells inhabited by hermit crabs (12 species found in total). A greater abundance and richness of epibionts was recorded from both shell types during the summer compared with winter. Differences in community composition between shell occupant types were attributed to microhabitats used by gastropods and hermit crabs and the associated desiccation pressures, rather than competitive interactions or shell characteristics. This contradicts earlier studies of subtidal shells where biological processes were considered more important than physical factors in controlling species abundance and richness patterns. The use of rockpool microhabitats by hermit crabs increases the biodiversity of rocky shores, as some species commonly found on hermit-crab-inhabited shells were rare in other local habitats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-661
Number of pages9
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number3
Early online date28 Apr 2005
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2005


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