77.2 Friday, Jan. 6 Variation in habitat structure impacts responses to biotic and abiotic factors in an intertidal snail GOSNELL, J.S.*; DIPRIMA, J.B.; GAINES, S.D.; Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Univ. of California, Santa Barbara firstname.lastname@example.org
Habitat structure often varies within and among communities and may influence the distribution of species and species interactions, yet studies of species interactions seldom consider the impact of habitat structure or complexity. To understand the importance of habitat structure, we examined how the structure of mussel beds influenced responses of whelks (Nucella emarginata) to abiotic (wave action) and biotic (predators (ochre sea stars, Pisaster ochraceus) and prey (Mytilus californianus)) factors. Results indicate that habitat structure increases the ability of whelks to survive in an area and influences habitat selection, mortality rates, and feeding in whelks in the presence of a predator. Habitat structure also has direct effects on feeding and growth rates in whelks. This suggests habitat structure can have complex impacts on species and species interactions in intertidal communities and may influence the distribution of whelks within sites. To better understand forces structuring ecological communities or potential responses to changing environments, studies should strive to incorporate habitat complexity instead of removing it for experimental clarity.