We evaluated experimentally whether distance between patches of the brown alga Sargassum stenophyllum relative to the source of colonizers influenced colonization patterns by (1) mobile epifauna and (2) gammarid amphipods with distinct life habits. Amphipods were the dominant group, commonly dispersing to patches up to 8 m distant from the algal bed, with low densities of other faunal groups. Assemblage structure of both faunal groups and gammarid amphipods on defaunated algae generally converged to that of controls during the experiments in less than eight days. Gammarid amphipods were dominated by tube-dwellers, but free-living nestlers also colonized the available substrate, and both reached control densities during the study. The same pattern was observed for representative species within each group. Colonization rates were related to faunal densities on the algal bed for most groups, suggesting that mobile organisms disperse more to new habitat patches in high density conditions. Thus, species with direct development can rapidly establish new aggregations at favourable sites, and contribute to small-scale heterogeneity in faunal distribution.