Markov chain analysis of succession in a rocky subtidal community. Academic Article uri icon


  • We present a Markov chain model of succession in a rocky subtidal community based on a long-term (1986-1994) study of subtidal invertebrates (14 species) at Ammen Rock Pinnacle in the Gulf of Maine. The model describes successional processes (disturbance, colonization, species persistence, and replacement), the equilibrium (stationary) community, and the rate of convergence. We described successional dynamics by species turnover rates, recurrence times, and the entropy of the transition matrix. We used perturbation analysis to quantify the response of diversity to successional rates and species removals. The equilibrium community was dominated by an encrusting sponge (Hymedesmia) and a bryozoan (Crisia eburnea). The equilibrium structure explained 98% of the variance in observed species frequencies. Dominant species have low probabilities of disturbance and high rates of colonization and persistence. On average, species turn over every 3.4 years. Recurrence times varied among species (7-268 years); rare species had the longest recurrence times. The community converged to equilibrium quickly (9.5 years), as measured by Dobrushin's coefficient of ergodicity. The largest changes in evenness would result from removal of the dominant sponge Hymedesmia. Subdominant species appear to increase evenness by slowing the dominance of Hymedesmia. Comparison of the subtidal community with intertidal and coral reef communities revealed that disturbance rates are an order of magnitude higher in coral reef than in rocky intertidal and subtidal communities. Colonization rates and turnover times, however, are lowest and longest in coral reefs, highest and shortest in intertidal communities, and intermediate in subtidal communities.

publication date

  • August 2004