A comprehensive study involving 52 microtidal beaches spanning from reflective to dissipative states and located in tropical, subtropical and temperate regions in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans was carried out to unravel the relative roles of latitude and beach morphodynamics in determining beach macrobenthic species richness, abundance, biomass and mean individual body sizes. Since beach slope is one of the most important factors controlling beach fauna, a model based on beach geometry was applied to the sub-aerial beach deposit to understand the role of physical factors in predicting equilibrium beach slopes. Additionally, it was tested if the occurrence of beach types is related to latitude, and how physical factors change with morphodynamics and latitude. The beach morphometric model makes three assumptions: 1) that the cross-section of a beach deposit is equivalent to a right-angled triangle, 2) that the physical hydrodynamic factors (wave height and spring tide amplitude) and the beach deposit characteristics (sand grain size, beach slope and width) are interchangeable with their geometric counterparts producing an equation to explain beach geometry, and 3) that the predicted beach slope is in equilibrium with the hydrodynamic and sedimentological forces. The equation for predicting beach slope was derived and then tested against field data collected over 52 beaches. The predicted slopes were not significantly different from the observed slopes of the studied natural beaches. However some estimated slopes were different than observed ones. Possible sources of deviation between calculated and observed slopes may be the systematic sampling errors associated with field data. Alternatively, observed slopes could be the result of past hydrodynamic conditions, explaining the differences with the slopes calculated by the beach morphometric model, which assumes a state of equilibrium between beach slope and hydrodynamic conditions. A higher correlation of beach faunal structure with observed slopes rather than with present hydrodynamic conditions could then be indicative of faunal responses to previous hydrodynamic conditions in the same way was the observed slopes. The beach morphometric model could therefore be also useful in predicting faunal responses to changing hydrodynamic conditions. Since the model does not consider wave period, it is concluded that further tests should be done using laboratory and time-series field data and incorporating the role of wave period and beach permeability to ascertain its predictive value. Tropical regions had significantly more beaches in a reflective state than temperate and subtropical regions. Some tropical beaches were fronted by coral reefs, which not only provided coarse carbonate particles, but also additionally dissipated the low wave energy present in these climatic areas. Only one dissipative beach with high energy was found in the tropics, in southeast Madagascar. Temperate and subtropical regions, on the other hand, were dominated by dissipative beaches with medium to fine sands. Open oceanic reflective beaches were non-existent in the subtropics and rare in temperate regions, only occurring in estuaries, enclosed bays or on islands facing the continent. Intermediate beaches were more common in the subtropics but also occurred frequently in the other two regions, having higher energy in temperate regions. Reflective beaches had significantly steeper slopes, coarser sands, smaller waves and shorter swash lengths when compared to dissipative beaches. Additionally, reflective beaches were narrower, had deeper water tables and in consequence shorter saturation zones. Wave periods and surfzone widths were on average larger on dissipative than on reflective beaches. The frequency of occurrence of beach types is therefore related to the climatic signature of each latitude. Mid latitudes would be predicted to have more dissipative beaches with large and long waves because of their proximity to the storm generating belt around 50-60 S - these beaches will have a predominantly finer sands because of the input by rivers in rainy areas. Lower latitudes will have more reflective beaches due to a modal low energy wave climate and also because of the presence of inshore and offshore biotic structures such as coral reefs that dissipate even more the energy from the waves. Tropical and subtropical regions had larger marine species pools than temperate regions. After controlling for biogeographical differences in total species pool, dissipative beaches were on average significantly richer than intermediate and reflective beaches. Crustaceans were also more diverse on dissipative beaches, this difference being not significant for either molluscs or polychaetes. Significant relationships were found between total beach species richness (with or without terrestrial species), crustacean and mollusc species richness with beach morphodynamics as represented by the Deans index. Indices incorporating the role of tide, such as BSI, were less important in predicting species richness on the microtidal beaches studied here. Several other physical factors were also significantly correlated with species richness, the most important being the Beach Deposit Index, i.e. BDI, a composite index of beach slope and grain size. The highest correlation was between BDI and relative species richness, i.e. local beach species richness / regional species richness. Total regional marine species richness was higher in Madagascar and North Brazil (tropical beaches) than in Southeast Brazil (subtropical), or the West Coast of South Africa and South-Central Chile (temperate beaches). Not only was the pool of species capable of colonizing beaches richer in tropical and subtropical regions, but also local diversity of each morphodynamic beach type was higher among tropical beaches than their temperate counterparts. Although the results of this study agree with the predictions of the swash exclusion hypotheses, several reflective and intermediate beaches had higher species richness than predicted before and this seems to be linked to the presence of finer sediments and a less turbulent flow for larvae to settle. It is concluded that beach species richness is not necessarily controlled by one major morphodynamic parameter; this control is complex and probably involves multiple interacting biotic (biological interactions) and abiotic (e.g. grain size, wave height, beach slope and width, water table) factors. Species richness seems to be controlled on two different scales: on an evolutionary one where tropical and subtropical regions have higher regional and local diversity due to higher speciation rates; and on an ecological scale, where fine grained sand beaches have their carrying capacity enhanced by higher larval settlement rates and survival of recruits towards adulthood. On average dissipative beaches had higher total densities and macrofaunal abundances than reflective ones. Crustaceans, terrestrial species and cirolanid isopods such as Excirolana spp. were also more abundant on dissipative beaches. The difference was not significant for molluscs and polychaetes. Significant relationships were found between total abundance, crustacean species richness and beach morphodynamics as represented by the Deans index. Again, BSI was less important than individual physical factors in determining faunal abundance on the studied microtidal beaches. Several other physical factors were also significantly correlated with abundance, the most important being the Beach Deposit Index (BDI). The highest correlation was between BDI and total macrofaunal abundance. Factors related to surf zone processes, and possibly productivity, were highly correlated with total community, crustaceans, Excirolana spp. and terrestrial species abundances. The abundances of polychaetes and molluscs were better correlated with factors related to the beach deposit (BDI, slope, grain size and water table depth). Significant differences were observed between latitudinal regions for the average beach and also for each beach type. In general temperate beaches harboured larger community densities and abundances, and also crustacean, Excirolana spp. and terrestrial abundances. Mollusc and polychaete abundances were larger on subtropical and tropical beaches. The control of abundance on a sandy beach is complex and involves multifactorial processes at evolutionary and ecological scales. At evolutionary scales animals seem to attain higher abundances in the region where they first evolved, e.g. amphipods and isopods in temperate regions. At ecological scales they attain higher abundances where productivity is higher (total macrofaunal, crustaceans, Excirolana spp., terrestrial spp.) or where the settlement environment is more benign (molluscs and polychaetes). Dissipative beaches supported larger average and total community biomass than reflective beaches. Crustaceans, terrestrial species and cirolanid isopods such as Excirolana spp. also had larger biomass on dissipative beaches. The difference was not significant for molluscs and polychaetes. Significant relationships were found between the biomass of community and taxonomic groups with beach morphodynamics as represented by the Deans morphodynamic index. On the microtidal beaches studied here, BSI was less important than other morphodynamic indices and single physical factors in determining faunal biomass and mean individual body size. Surf zone characteristics such as wave height, period and surf zone width had the highest correlations with community, crustacean, Excirolana spp. and terrestrial biomass. Polychaete biomass was better correlated with characteristics of the beach deposit, such as grain size, beach slope and water table. Mollusc biomass was correlated with saturation distance. Biomass of the community and taxonomic groups was significantly larger on temperate beaches. Only polychaete and mollusc biomass did not vary between latitudes. Mean individual body sizes of crustaceans, polychaetes, molluscs and Excirolana spp. were significantly larger at temperate beaches, on all beach types. Both morphodynamics, through surf zone processes, and latitude, through differences in productivity, seem to control biomass of beach macrofauna. Body sizes of crustaceans and polychaetes seem to be related to latitudinal differences in productivity and molluscs with the degree of reflectiveness of the beach.


beach morphodynamics ecologia de ecossistemas sandy beaches coastal environments beach communities and populations

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