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THE LITTORAL ZONE

(= INTERTIDAL ZONE)

What is it and how


do we describe it?

Mar Valls, april 2009

What is the littoral zone?


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Its the narrow fringe along the shoreline that lies


between the highest high tide and the lowest low tide
Regularly exposed to the air (emmersion) the
organisms must have a way to cope with this
exposure
Type of community depends, among other factors,
on the type of the bottom (substrate)soft
(sand/mud) vs hard (rocky) bottoms

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIES


abiotic factors
1. Hard bottommost organisms living on the
rocks surface
2. Upper part (supralittoral/upper intertidal)
almost never immersed. Only during the
peak of the highest tide (spring tides). Most
water it receives comes from waves
splash emmersion

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIES

abiotic factors (cont.)


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Consequences of
emmersion:

Desiccation
Temperature
extremes
Salinity extremes
Restriction of
feeding

Consequences
and strategies
to cope with
this abiotic
factors

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIES


abiotic factors (cont.)
3. Lower parts almost always submerged
4. Some areas are exposed to the power of
the sea (strategies to cope with the wave
shock), others are sheltered
5. High light &nutrient-rich coastal waters (
high production)+ high detritus Food is
not a limiting resource for almost all
intertidal organisms
6. Space is a limited resource

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIESbiotic factors


1.

2.

most organisms are sessile competition


for spacestrategies to compete for space
Little sediment in rocky shoresmore filter
feeders vs deposit feedersRestriction of
feeding may occur at low
tideconsequences. ex. Slow growing

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIESVertical Zonation


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Vertical zonation: the organisms are distributed into


distinct bands or zones at characteristic heights in
the intertidal
Pattern of vertical zonation results from complex
interaction between biotic and abiotic factors:

Upper limits of distribution of a species often determined by


abiotic factors
Lower limit often determined by biotic factors
(predation/competition)

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIESVertical Zonation


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According to the different factors, the intertidal zone


can be divided into different zones, within each of
which the organisms may form horizontal bands:

Suppralittoral (=upper intertidal): above high tide mark.


Only wet by the waves splashes and only submerged in
spring high tides. Splash zone. Limpets, lichens &
cyanobacteria
Mesolittoral (=middle intertidal): between high and low tide.
Alternates immersion and emersion on a regular basis.
Barnacles, mussels, rockweed (upper limit)
Infralittoral (=lower intertidal): immersed most of the time.
Dominated by seaweeds forming bands. Grazing and
competition strong

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIESVertical Zonation

ROCKY LITTORAL COMMUNITIESVertical Zonation- biotic and abiotic


factors
The pattern of vertical zonation will depend on:
z biotic and abiotic factors determining the
upper and lower limits of distribution of a
species (predation, feeding strategy, space
competition, emmersion-submersion, ..)
z Biotic and abiotic factors determining the
possible existence of a species in the area
(slope & orientation of the shore amount of
light, wave energy)

SOFT BOTTOM LITTORAL


COMMUNITIES-biotic and abiotic
factors
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Granulometry (size of the sand grains)


Redox potential (oxidized conditions/
reduced conditions)
Oxygen concentration
Organic matter

Study of the littoral zoneMaterials


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1 Tape measure
3 River pants: hytt 8
3 Underwater visualizer: hytt 8
Field identification guides for invertebrates: stora massa
Plastic bags with zip to take samples
Permanent pen
3 knives
3 White plastic boxes: stora massa
Plankton rope with a shackle in the end
20x20cm square
Notebook and pencil/colour pencils
Camera
3 Mask and tube
1 bottle for water sample

Study of the littoral zoneMethodology (1)


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Choose a study area along the shoreline (1m width)


Place the rope in the vertical axis all the way from
the supralittoral zone to the infralittoral
Identify the limits of the 3 littoral zones (supralittoral,
mesolittoral or infralittoral)

Study of the littoral zoneMethodology (2)


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Take note of the following abiotic factors within each


zone *:

Kind of substrate
Light/shadow
Wave energy (sheltered vs exposed zone, bottom shape)
Slope
Temperature
Amount of sediment in the water
Salinity (take a water sample)

*they can change within a zone

Study of the littoral zoneMethodology (3)


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look at the distribution of the most abundant


organisms/groups of organisms along the vertical
axis, starting from the highest point. Take note of the
following data for each organism:

phyllum of the organism


Pattern of distribution of the organism: uniform (ex.
horizontal band), aggregated (ex. dots/clusters)
Highest and lowest point of distribution of the organism
along the rope
Mean abundance (% of occupation in a 20x20cm square)
Take a sample for later identification onboard

Study of the littoral zoneMethodology (4)

Is the organism sharing the space with other organisms of


different species?
What abiotic factors affect the distribution of this organism?
What biotic factors (predation/competition/feeding
strategies/dispersal-reproductive strategies) may affect the
distribution of this organism?
Do you see any strategy adopted by the organism to live in
the place where its living?

Study of the littoral zoneMethodology (5)


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Make a drawing of the vertical zonation of


your study area placing the most abundant
organisms according to their position in the
vertical axis and to their pattern of
distribution

Sources
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Marine Biology. Castro, E. & Huber M.


McGrawHill, 6th edition.
Marine Ecological Processes. Valiela, I.
Springer ed, 2nd edition.