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Tracking the Changes: An Exploration of Ecological Succession in Rocky Intertidal Communities Public Deposited

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  • The rocky shores of the US West Coast are home to diverse ecological communities made up of species that are uniquely adapted for survival at the harsh boundary between land and sea. Even so, physical or environmental stressors regularly kill swaths of animals on the rocks. This is called disturbance. For example, high wave action can rip organisms off the rocks, opening up previously occupied habitat for other organisms to colonize. Over time, as new organisms move into the disturbed area, the community will redevelop. The process by which a community of species colonizes new areas is called succession. Successional trajectories of communities in the rocky intertidal zone can be influenced by the structure of the surrounding community as well as environmental factors like water temperature, air temperature, and upwelling intensity. Upwelling, the process by which wind drives the movement of deep, nutrient-rich water to surface coastal waters, plays a key role in determining the structure of rocky intertidal communities. I analyzed photos of intertidal plots at 4 sites in Oregon and California to investigate spatial and temporal variation in successional trajectories along the US West Coast. Ten 15x15cm plots at each site were scraped clear of organisms to simulate disturbance, then photographed monthly as they were recolonized with organisms. To quantify the composition of these successional communities, I identified species at 75 randomly placed points in each photo from four different time points over a 14-month period. Community structure from the final time point at each site was compared using Analysis of Similarity (ANOSIM) and Similarity Percentages (SIMPER). Results showed that community structure became less similar the farther apart two sites were. Sites transitioned from barnacle dominance in the north to algal dominance in the south. Disturbance events are increasing in frequency and severity as climate change progresses. This research into how communities recover from disturbance will inform strategies for effective management and tailored conservation efforts of coastal ecosystems.
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  • OSU, Corvallis, Oregon, USA
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  • This research was funded through the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program at Oregon State University.
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  • Ongoing Research
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  • 2020-09-18 to 2021-04-19



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