Comparative Species Richness in Fluctuating and Constant Environments: Coral-Associated Decapod Crustaceans

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Science  30 Apr 1976:
Vol. 192, Issue 4238, pp. 461-463
DOI: 10.1126/science.192.4238.461


The number of decapod species associated with the coral Pocillopora damicornis is compared between two regions on the Pacific coast of Panama which are of the same geologic age but differ in environmental characteristics. The relationship between number of species and coral head size does not differ between the two regions but species composition among coral heads is more variable in the fluctuating environment. Thus there are more species (55 compared to 37) associated with corals in the fluctuating environment than in the constant environment. These data impugn the concept that environmental constancy increases species richness. They support the hypothesis that species equilibrium within habitats is maintained by measurable ecological factors—in this case, the effects of a natural physical disturbance.