Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 November 2016
Examining how variability in population abundance and distribution is allotted among different spatial scales can inform of processes that are likely to generate that variability. Results of studies dealing with scale issues in marine benthic communities suggest that variability is concentrated at small spatial scales (from tens of centimetres to few metres) and that spatial patterns of variation are consistent across ecosystems characterized by contrasting physical and biotic conditions, but this has not been formally tested. Here we quantified the variability in the distribution of intertidal rocky shore communities at a range of spatial scales, from tens of centimetres to thousands of kilometres, both in the NE Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and tested whether the observed patterns differed between the two basins. We focused on canopy-forming macroalgae and associated understorey assemblages in the low intertidal, and on the distribution of Patella limpets at mid intertidal levels. Our results highlight that patterns of spatial variation, at each scale investigated, were consistent between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, suggesting that similar ecological processes operate in these regions. In contrast with former studies, variability in canopy cover, species richness and limpet abundance was equally distributed among spatial scales, possibly reflecting the fingerprint of multiple processes. Variability in community structure of low intertidal assemblages, instead, peaked at the largest scale, suggesting that oceanographic processes and climatic gradients may be important. We conclude that formal comparisons of variability across scales nested in contrasting systems are needed, before any generalization on patterns and processes can be made.