Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 5, pp 861–873 | Cite as

Urban marine ecology in southern California: the ability of riprap structures to serve as rocky intertidal habitat

  • Benjamin PisterEmail author
Original Paper


Increasing human populations along marine coastlines has lead to increasing urbanization of the marine environment. Despite decades of investigations on terrestrial ecosystems, the effect of urbanization on marine life is not well understood. Riprap is the rocky rubble used to build jetties, breakwaters, and armored shorelines. Roughly 30% of the southern California shoreline supports some form of riprap, while 29% of the shoreline is natural rocky substrate. Astonishingly few studies have investigated this anthropogenic rocky habitat even though it rivals a natural habitat in area on a regional scale along a coastline that has been extensively studied. In this study, I compared the diversity and community structure of exposed rocky intertidal communities on four riprap and four natural sites in southern California. I ask the following questions: (1) does diversity or community composition differ between intertidal communities on riprap and natural rocky habitats in southern California, (2) if so, which organisms contribute to those differences, (3) which physical factors are contributing to these differences, and (4) do riprap habitats support higher abundances of invasive species than natural habitats? On average, riprap and natural rocky habitats in wave exposed environments in southern California did not differ from each other in diversity or community composition when considering the entire assemblage. However, when only mobile species were considered, they occurred in greater diversity on natural shores. These differences appear to be driven by wave exposure. The presence of invasive species was negligible in both natural and riprap habitats.


Breakwater Significant Wave Height Wave Force Surf Zone Natural Rock 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would especially like to thank my family, J. Pister, V. Pister, J. Pister, A. Pister, and A. Pister for their support and encouragement. My advisor, K. Roy has given much helpful advice throughout this study. This manuscript was greatly improved through discussions with M. Rivadeneira, E. Hunt, P. Dayton, R. Ambrose, P. Fenberg, and four anonymous reviewers. Several friends deserve thanks for their hard and sometimes harrowing work in the field, including: A. Poon, V. Tai, M. Martin, T. Huff, P. Fenberg, C. Catton, A. See, E. Lichtenberg, and K Hiland. M. Martin deserves special thanks for courage and fortitude on one day when it was unwise to be on the Dana Pt. Breakwater. T. Huff also exhibited her nonchalant toughness when accompanying me on the one and only time I attempted field work on a breakwater in the middle of the night. K. Whiteside and S. Murray helped with species identification. During this work I was supported by a GAAN grant, the Jeanne Marie Messier Memorial Fund, and as a NOAA California Seagrant Trainee (K. Roy, P.I.).

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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© The Author(s) 2009

Open AccessThis is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cabrillo National MonumentNational Park ServiceSan DiegoUSA

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