, Volume 614, Issue 1, pp 233–241 | Cite as

Large-scale coexistence and small-scale segregation of key species on rocky shores

  • Louise B. Firth
  • Tasman P. Crowe
Primary research paper


Biodiversity is defined by the scales at which organisms coexist. Coexistence at larger spatial scales may be underpinned by segregation at smaller spatial scales or temporal variability in behaviour and/or distribution. Limpets of the genus Patella are keystone grazers controlling the growth of macro-algae on many rocky shores. This study examined the distribution and abundance of P. vulgata and P. ulyssiponensis in relation to habitat and to each other at a range of spatial scales. Limpets were sampled on four shores on each of the east and west coasts of Ireland, in two different transects (10 m apart) at each of three shore heights in winter 2003 and summer 2004. P. vulgata and P. ulyssiponensis coexist around the coast of Ireland, but on shores where they co-occur, the pattern of coexistence begins to break down at the level of shore height: P. ulyssiponensis were more abundant on the low-shore than mid-shore, and P. vulgata were distributed evenly throughout the low and the mid-shore. At the level of habitat (pools vs. open rock), the two species exhibited a high degree of segregation: P. vulgata of all sizes were more common on open rock and P. ulyssiponensis of all sizes were more common in pools. The presence or absence of P. ulyssiponensis had no effect on the distribution of juvenile P. vulgata with respect to pools. Unexpectedly, however, a greater proportion of adult P. vulgata were found in pools at sites where P. ulyssiponensis were present in the pools than at sites where they were absent. The results of this study emphasize the need for multiple-scale analyses of the distribution and abundance of organisms to understand the organisation of natural assemblages.


Habitat Ireland Limpet Patella vulgata P. ulyssiponensis 



LBF was supported by Irish Research Council for Science and Engineering Technology scholarship RS/2003/115. We are grateful to A. Knights, H. Firth, M. O’Toole, N. O’Connor and K. Patton for assistance with field and lab work.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biology and Environmental Science, Science Centre WestUniversity College DublinBelfield, Dublin 4Ireland

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