Cool barnacles: Do common biogenic structures enhance or retard rates of deterioration of intertidal rocks and concrete?

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Coombes, Martin A. ; Viles, Heather A. ; Naylor, Larissa A. ; La Marca, Emanuela Claudia (2017)

Sedentary and mobile organisms grow profusely on hard substrates within the coastal zone and contribute to the deterioration of coastal engineering structures and the geomorphic evolution of rocky shores by both enhancing and retarding weathering and erosion. There is a lack of quantitative evidence for the direction and magnitude of these effects. This study assesses the influence of globally-abundant intertidal organisms, barnacles, by measuring the response of limestone, granite and marine-grade concrete colonised with varying percentage covers of Chthamalus spp. under simulated, temperate intertidal conditions. Temperature regimes at 5 and 10 mm below the surface of each material demonstrated a consistent and statistically significant negative relationship between barnacle abundance and indicators of thermal breakdown. With a 95% cover of barnacles, subsurface peak temperatures were reduced by 1.59 °C for limestone, 5.54 °C for concrete and 5.97 °C for granite in comparison to no barnacle cover. The amplitudes of short-term (15–30 min) thermal fluctuations conducive to breakdown via 'fatigue' effects were also buffered by 0.70 °C in limestone, 1.50 °C in concrete and 1.63 °C in granite. Furthermore, concentrations of potentially damaging salt ions were consistently lower under barnacles in limestone and concrete. These results indicate that barnacles do not enhance, but likely reduce rates of mechanical breakdown on rock and concrete by buffering near-surface thermal cycling and reducing salt ion ingress. In these ways, we highlight the potential role of barnacles as agents of bioprotection. These findings support growing international efforts to enhance the ecological value of hard coastal structures by facilitating their colonisation (where appropriate) through design interventions.
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