A biologically relevant rapid quantification of physical and biological stress profiles on rocky shores.

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Stafford, Rick ; Ng, T.P.T. ; Williams, G. A. ; Davies, M. S. (2015)

Different combinations and intensities of physical (e.g. thermal) and biological (e.g.competition or predation) stress operate on organisms in different locations. Variation in these stresses can occur over small to medium spatial scales (cm to 10s m) in heterogeneous environments such as rocky shores, due to differences in sun and wave exposure, shore topography and/or recruitment. In this study we demonstrate how simple measurements can be taken that represent physical and biological stresses (stress profiles)in a given location. Using a bootstrapped principal component analysis, we identified significantly different stress profiles at four sites separated by only 10s to 100s of metres on the Shek O peninsula in Hong Kong. We then measured response to thermal stress, as determined by detachment temperature, in the limpet Cellana grata (which is known to be a sensitive indicator species to thermal stress) from each location. Significant differences in stress profile between locations were also seen in thermal stress tolerance of limpets from those locations. At locations where the major stresses are likely to be more physical or less biological in nature (e.g. southerly facing aspect or lower density of grazers), the mean detachment temperature was higher, whereas detachment temperature was lower at sites with more biological or less physical stress. This method is, therefore, able to determine biologically meaningful differences in stress profiles over small to medium spatial scales, and demonstrates that localised adaptation (i.e. post planktonic settlement) or acclimation of species may occur in response to these different stress profiles. The technique can be adapted to different environments and smaller or larger spatial scales as long as the stress experienced by the study species is relevant to these scales.
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