Not all space is created equal: distribution of free space and its influence on heat-stress and the limpet Patelloida latistrigata
For most marine benthic communities unoccupied primary substrata, or free space, is considered the principle limiting resource. Substratum temperatures, desiccation rates and hydrodynamic characteristics of free space, however, may vary depending on patch size and isolation and therefore potentially influence biotic processes. This paper investigates the relationship between small-scale changes in the availability and configuration of free space, heat stress and abundance of the small rocky intertidal gastropod Patelloida latistrigata within southeastern Australia. Using infrared thermography I show that heat stress of rocky intertidal communities increased linearly with increasing amounts of free space on three neighbouring shores during four separate sampling intervals from October 2009 to January 2010. Abundances of P. latistrigata generally declined with increasing availability of free space and the associated increases in heat stress. An experimental manipulation that altered the configuration but not the availability of free space demonstrated that both heat stress and P. latistrigata abundance are not affected by small-scale changes in the configuration of free space. The small-scale distribution of P. latistrigata, however, was significantly influenced by differences in the configuration of free space with limpets displaying bimodal distributions within areas characterised by unevenly distributed free space. Since the distribution of Patelloida varies depending on the configuration of free space but thermal properties at the scale of individual limpets do not then we might expect Patelloida to be responding to changes in other abiotic factors, such as hydrodynamic forces and desiccation rates, which may change with the configuration of free space. This study highlights the dynamic and usually unexamined relationship between abiotic stress and the availability and acquisition of resources by marine benthic invertebrates.