Area-Independent Effects of Water-Retaining Features on Intertidal Biodiversity on Eco-Engineered Seawalls in the Tropics
Over the last decade there has been a global effort to eco-engineer urban artificial shorelines with the aim of increasing their biodiversity and extending their conservation value. One of the most common and viable eco-engineering approaches on seawalls is to use enhancement features that increase habitat structural complexity, including concrete tiles molded with complex designs and precast “flowerpots” that create artificial rock pools. Increases in species diversity in pits and pools due to microhabitat conditions (water retention, shade, protection from waves, and/or biotic refugia) are often reported, but these results can be confounded by differences in the surface area sampled. In this study, we fabricated three tile types (n = 10): covered tile (grooved tile with a cover to retain water), uncovered tile (same grooved tile but without a cover) and granite control. We tested the effects of these tile types on species richness (S), total individual abundance (N), and community composition. All tiles were installed at 0.5 m above chart datum along seawalls surrounding two island sites (Pulau Hantu and Kusu Island) south of Singapore mainland. The colonizing assemblages were sampled after 8 months. Consistent with previous studies, mean S was significantly greater on covered tiles compared to the uncovered and granite tiles. While it is implied in much of the eco-engineering literature that this pattern results from greater niche availability allotted by microhabitat conditions, we further investigated whether there was an underlying species-individual relationship to determine whether increases in S could have simply resulted from covered tiles supporting greater N (i.e., increasing the probability of detecting more species despite a constant area). The species-individual relationship was positive, suggesting that multiple mechanisms are at play, and that biodiversity enhancements may in some instances operate simply by increasing the abundance of individuals, even when microhabitat availability is unchanged. This finding underscores the importance of testing mechanisms in eco-engineering studies and highlights ongoing mechanistic uncertainties that should be addressed to inform the design of more biodiverse seawalls and urban marine environments.