A three-trophic-level interaction among American Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani), limpets (Lottia spp.), and erect fleshy algae in rocky intertidal communities of central and southern California was documented via manipulative and 'natural' experiments. Removal of the territorial limpet (Lottia gigantea) initially caused large increases in the percent cover of erect fleshy algae, followed by a more gradual increase in density of small limpets (Lottia spp.) and a decline in algal cover. Algal cover increased following the removal of small limpets at the sites from which L. gigantea had been removed earlier, thus demonstrating that the large and small limpets had similar inhibitory effects on plant populations. A comparison of sites with and without oyster-catchers showed that L. gigantea occupied substrate inclinations in proportion to their availability at sites where oystercatchers were rare, whereas the distribution of L. gigantea was skewed toward vertically inclined substrates where oystercatchers were common. Survival rates of limpets translocated to horizontal and vertical substrates were similar in sites lacking oystercatcher predation, but were much lower on horizontal substrates where oystercatchers were common. Our results are consistent with those from several prior studies in demonstrating that shorelines frequented by humans typically lack oystercatchers. Humans also exploit L. gigantea and reduce populations to low densities of small individuals. These findings may explain why the midlittoral zone of rocky intertidal communities in western North America are so often dominated by high population densities of small limpets.
Additional publication details
Human influences on trophic cascades along rocky shores