Benthic Ecology

Ron Etter

in Ecology

Published online June 2016 | | DOI:

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences


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Benthic ecology is a large and very diverse field that explores how organisms that live on the ocean floor interact with and influence the biotic and abiotic environment. Studies occur in a wide variety of distinct major habitats, including coral reefs, kelp forests, estuaries, salt marshes, sediment and rocky bottoms, intertidal, subtidal, deep sea, and hydrothermal vents. This article is focused on benthic community ecology and draws on research from the various habitat types. The structure and dynamics of benthic communities reflect the integration of ecological and evolutionary processes operating across a broad spectrum of spatial and temporal scales. Benthic community ecology strives to quantify how the relative importance and interaction of these different processes change with scale to control the abundance, distribution, and dynamics of species and the assembly, structure, and function of benthic communities. Small-scale processes (e.g., competition, predation, and disturbance) dominated early benthic ecological research because they could be manipulated and controlled experimentally. More recent empirical and theoretical work indicated that processes operating on much larger spatial and temporal scales play important roles in shaping the species composition and dynamics of local communities. Regional-scale processes integrate, modulate, and interact with local- and landscape-level processes operating within the various habitats that comprise a region. Local and regional dynamics are thus interdependent and strongly influenced by the relative abundance of habitats (landscape heterogeneity) within a region, the productivity of different habitat patches, and the connectivity among those patches. This realization led to the development of landscape, metapopulation, metacommunity, and metaecosystem ecology that explicitly address the interaction of processes operating on different scales. At larger regional scales, community assembly, the relative importance of bottom-up and top-down processes, and the nature, intensity, and scale of interactions can shift in response to environmental gradients. Much contemporary work focuses on understanding how differences in biotic and abiotic context mediate changes in species interactions, and ultimately community assembly, to develop integrative models of ecosystem structure, function, and dynamics and to better predict how environmental changes might alter benthic ecosystems and their services.

Article.  11086 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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