Indexed on: 12 Jun '13Published on: 12 Jun '13Published in: PloS one
Coastal ecosystems are often stressed by non-point source and cumulative effects that can lead to local-scale community homogenisation and a concomitant loss of large-scale ecological connectivity. Here we investigate the use of β-diversity as a measure of both community heterogeneity and ecological connectivity. To understand the consequences of different environmental scenarios on heterogeneity and connectivity, it is necessary to understand the scale at which different environmental factors affect β-diversity. We sampled macrofauna from intertidal sites in nine estuaries from New Zealand's North Island that represented different degrees of stress derived from land-use. We used multiple regression models to identify relationships between β-diversity and local sediment variables, factors related to the estuarine and catchment hydrodynamics and morphology and land-based stressors. At local scales, we found higher β-diversity at sites with a relatively high total richness. At larger scales, β-diversity was positively related to γ-diversity, suggesting that a large regional species pool was linked with large-scale heterogeneity in these systems. Local environmental heterogeneity influenced β-diversity at both local and regional scales, although variables at the estuarine and catchment scales were both needed to explain large scale connectivity. The estuaries expected a priori to be the most stressed exhibited higher variance in community dissimilarity between sites and connectivity to the estuary species pool. This suggests that connectivity and heterogeneity metrics could be used to generate early warning signals of cumulative stress.