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A global analysis of complexity-biodiversity relationships on marine artificial structures


Strain, EMA and Steinberg, PD and Vozzo, M and Johnston, EL and Abbiati, M and Aguilera, MA and Airoldi, L and Aguirre, JD and Ashton, G and Bernardi, M and Brooks, P and Chan, BKK and Cheah, CB and Chee, SY and Coutinho, R and Crowe, T and Davey, A and Firth, LB and Fraser, C and Hanley, ME and Hawkins, SJ and Knick, KE and Lau, ETC and Leung, KMY and McKenzie, C and MacLeod, C and Mafanya, S and Mancuso, FP and Messano, LVR and Naval-Xavier, LPD and Ng, TPT and O'Shaughnessy, KA and Pattrick, P and Perkins, MJ and Perkol-Finkel, S and Porri, F and Ross, DJ and Ruiz, G and Sella, I and Seitz, R and Shirazi, R and Thiel, M and Thompson, RC and Yee, JC and Zabin, C and Bishop, MJ, A global analysis of complexity-biodiversity relationships on marine artificial structures, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 30, (1) pp. 140-153. ISSN 1466-822X (2020) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

DOI: doi:10.1111/geb.13202



Topographic complexity is widely accepted as a key driver of biodiversity, but at the patch‐scale, complexity–biodiversity relationships may vary spatially and temporally according to the environmental stressors complexity mitigates, and the species richness and identity of potential colonists. Using a manipulative experiment, we assessed spatial variation in patch‐scale effects of complexity on intertidal biodiversity.


27 sites within 14 estuaries/bays distributed globally.

Time period


Major taxa studied

Functional groups of algae, sessile and mobile invertebrates.


Concrete tiles of differing complexity (flat; 2.5‐cm or 5‐cm complex) were affixed at low–high intertidal elevation on coastal defence structures, and the richness and abundance of the colonizing taxa were quantified after 12 months.


The patch‐scale effects of complexity varied spatially and among functional groups. Complexity had neutral to positive effects on total, invertebrate and algal taxa richness, and invertebrate abundances. However, effects on the abundance of algae ranged from positive to negative, depending on location and functional group. The tidal elevation at which tiles were placed accounted for some variation. The total and invertebrate richness were greater at low or mid than at high intertidal elevations. Latitude was also an important source of spatial variation, with the effects of complexity on total richness and mobile mollusc abundance greatest at lower latitudes, whilst the cover of sessile invertebrates and sessile molluscs responded most strongly to complexity at higher latitudes.


After 12 months, patch‐scale relationships between biodiversity and habitat complexity were not universally positive. Instead, the relationship varied among functional groups and according to local abiotic and biotic conditions. This result challenges the assumption that effects of complexity on biodiversity are universally positive. The variable effect of complexity has ramifications for community and applied ecology, including eco‐engineering and restoration that seek to bolster biodiversity through the addition of complexity.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:eco-engineering, biodiversity, coastal defence, habitat structure, intertidal, seawalls, manipulative experiment, bays, benthic, biodiversity, breakwaters, eco-engineering, estuaries, intertidal, seawalls, tile, urban
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Coastal and estuarine systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of coastal and estuarine ecosystems
UTAS Author:Strain, EMA (Dr Beth Strain)
UTAS Author:Davey, A (Mr Adam Davey)
UTAS Author:MacLeod, C (Professor Catriona MacLeod)
UTAS Author:Ross, DJ (Associate Professor Jeff Ross)
ID Code:141366
Year Published:2020
Web of Science® Times Cited:23
Deposited By:Sustainable Marine Research Collaboration
Deposited On:2020-10-16
Last Modified:2021-08-05
Downloads:18 View Download Statistics

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