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Surface-dependent strategies and energy flux in benthic marine communities or, why corals do not exist in the Mediterranean
Mikel Zabala, Enric Ballesteros

Most structure-building organisms in rocky benthic communities are surface-dependent because their energy inputs depend mainly on the surface they expose to water. Two photosynthetic strategies, divided into calcareous and non calcareous algae, strict suspension-feeders and photosynthetic suspension feeders (e.g. hermatypic corals) are the four main strategies evolutively acquired by benthic organisms. Competition between those strategies occur in relation to productivity of the different species, in such a way that, for given environmental conditions, species with a higher growth (P/B ratio) would dominate. At a worldwide scale, littoral marine benthos can he considered to fit into the four fields defined by two main axes: the first, relates to productivity and relies atrophic and oligotrophic waters and the second is defined by the degree of environmental variability or seasonality (from high to low). Coral reefs (marine ecosystems dominated by photosynthetic suspension feeders) develop in the space of oligotrophic areas with low variability, while kelp beds (marine ecosystem dominated by large, non calcareous algae) are to be found only in eutrophic places with a high variability. The space of eutrophic waters with a low variability do not has specially adapted, high structured, benthic marine ecosystems, and in these conditions opportunistic algae and animals predominate. Finally, photophilic mediterranean benthos -devoid of kelps and without hermatypic corals- typifies the field of oligotrophic areas with high variability; in its more genuine aspect, Mediterranean benthos is represented by small algae with a high percentage of calcareous thallii. In all cases strict suspension-feeders compete successfully with photosynthetic organisms only in situations of low irradiances or very high inputs of POM. In its turn, Mediterranean rocky benthos, in spite of its relative uniformity, is geographically organized along the same axes. The Gulf of Lions and the insular bottoms (Balearic Islands, for example) would correspond to the extremes of eutrophic-high variability areas and oligotrophic-low variability areas, respectively. Irradiance, nutrient and POM concentration, and hydrodynamism are the three variables which mainly affect the distribution of the different surface-dependent strategies, and thus, these parameters are of paramount interest for understanding the trophic structure of Mediterranean benthic communities. In environments non limited by light, nutrient availability, defined as the product between nutrient -POM concentration and hydrodynamism, states the dominance of calcareous versus non calcareous algae. Calcareous algae dominate in oligotrophic waters while non-calcareous algae dominate in moderately eutrophic waters. In light-limited environments, passive suspension feeders (octocorallaria, gorgonians) become dominant species if POM availability is enhanced by a high hydrodynamism (strong currents); in waters with a low charge of POM organisms of other groups, mainly active suspension feeders, predominate (sponges, bryozoans, scleractiniarians). In any case, there always exists a very variable bathymetric zone, depending on light attenuation and nutrient-POM availability, where encrusting calcareous algae strongly compete with suspension feeders (coralligenous).

Keywords: Mediterranean benthos, coral reefs, energy flux, spatial competition, trophic strategies, P/B ratios.
Contents of this volume Sci. Mar. 53(1) : 3-17 Back PDF
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