The Response of Experimental Rocky Shore Communities to Nutrient Additions

Tor L. Bokn*, Carlos M. Duarte, Morten F. Pedersen, Nuria Marba, Frithjof E. Moy, Cristina Barrón, Birger Bjerkeng, Jens Borum, Hartvig Christie, Silke Engelbert, Frank L. Fotel, Espen E. Hoell, Rolf Karez, Kees Kersting, Patrik Kraufvelin, Cecilia Lindblad, Marianne Olsen, Knut Arvid Sanderud, Ulrich Sommer, Kai Sørensen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The aim of this study was to determine whether the experimental nutrient enrichment of littoral rocky shore communities would be followed by a predicted accumulation of fast-growing opportunistic algae and a subsequent loss of perennial benthic vegetation. Inorganic nitrogen (N) and potassium (P) was added to eight concrete mesocosms inhabited by established littoral communities dominated by fucoids. The response to nutrient enrichment was followed for almost 2 1/2 years. Fast-growing opportunistic algae (periphyton and ephemeral green algae) grew significantly faster in response to nutrient enrichment, but the growth of red filamentous algae and large perennial brown algae was unaffected. However, these changes were not followed by comparable changes in the biomass and composition of the macroalgae. The biomass of opportunistic algae was stimulated only marginally by the nutrient enrichment, and perennial brown algae (fucoids) remained dominant in the mesocosm regardless of nutrient treatment level. Established rocky shore communities thus seem able to resist the effects of heavy nutrient loading. We found that the combined effects of the heavy competition for space and light imposed by canopy-forming algae, preferential grazing on opportunistic algae by herbivores, and physical disturbance, succeeded by a marked export of detached opportunistic algae, prevented the fast-growing algae from becoming dominant. However, recruitment studies showed that the opportunistic algae would become dominant when free space was available under conditions of high nutrient loading and low grazing pressure. These results show that established communities of perennial algae and associated fauna in rocky shore environments can prevent or delay the accumulation of bloom-forming opportunistic algae and that the replacement of long-lived macroalgae by opportunistic species at high nutrient loading may be a slow process. Nutrient enrichment may not, in itself, be enough to stimulate structural changes in rocky shore communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-594
Number of pages18
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Algae
  • Benthic vegetation
  • Coastal eutrophication
  • Hard-bottom organisms
  • Intertidal communities
  • Mesocosm
  • Nutrient enrichment
  • Rocky shore communities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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