General introduction of rocky intertidal and salt marsh systems
The land–sea margin encompasses a variety of hard and soft-bottom habitats where organisms are exposed to a dynamic range of aquatic and atmospheric conditions dependent on a rhythm set by the tides. In this chapter, we focus on rocky intertidal and salt marsh ecosystems, which have been extensively studied on many continents. Both rocky shore and salt marsh communities exhibit strong and consistent patterns of intertidal zonation over relatively compressed spatial scales, making them excellent systems for understanding the context-dependency of species interactions. Hard-bottomed rocky intertidal communities are dominated by marine macroalgae and sessile marine invertebrates extending their reach to the furthest edge of the influence of sea spray, while soft-bottomed salt marsh communities are anchored by terrestrial plants with adaptations or tolerance to inundation by salty and brackish waters. Rocky shore communities may be battered by the full force of large ocean waves or gently lapped with seawater on more protected shorelines. In contrast, salt marshes are restricted to quiet waters where sediment accretion by plants is the main mechanism for habitat creation. Both communities may experience very large tidal excursions or only minimal ones, depending on the local dynamics of the tides, with corresponding consequences for the spatial extent of these communities across the shoreline. The steep environmental gradients and distinctive biological zonation patterns that characterize both rocky shore and salt marsh ecosystems (Fig. 7.1) have provided ecologists with accessible and highly tractable ecosystems for investigating the role of bottom-up and top-down factors along environmental gradients.
Bottom-up and top-down interactions in rocky intertidal systems
Introduction to rocky intertidal systems
Rocky intertidal communities have been the subject of intensive study world-wide, especially at temperate latitudes. The typically broad tidal range and relatively moderate atmospheric conditions create a wide zone of intertidal habitat that is generally hospitable to rocky intertidal species, while also readily accessible to investigators for hours at a time during periods of low tide and calm sea state.