Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Scale-dependent relationships between benthic habitat characteristics and abundances of blacklip abalone, Haliotis rubra (Leach)

Elisabeth M. A. Strain A B D and Craig R. Johnson A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Zoology and TAFI, Private Bag 5, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia.

B Present Address: Queen’s University, School of Biological Sciences, Medical Biology Centre, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast, UK.

C Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Private Bag 129, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 61(11) 1227-1236
Submitted: 25 August 2009  Accepted: 19 May 2010   Published: 16 November 2010


Habitat characteristics can influence marine herbivore densities at a range of spatial scales. We examined the relationship between benthic habitat characteristics and adult blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra) densities across local scales (0.0625–16 m2), at 2 depths, 4 sites and 2 locations, in Tasmania, Australia. Biotic characteristics that were highly correlated with abalone densities included cover of non-calcareous encrusting red algae (NERA), non-geniculate coralline algae (NCA), a matrix of filamentous algae and sediment, sessile invertebrates, and foliose red algae. The precision of relationships varied with spatial scale. At smaller scales (0.0625–0.25 m2), there was a positive relationship between NERA and ERA, and negative relationships between sediment matrix, sessile invertebrates and abalone densities. At the largest scale (16 m2), there was a positive relationship between NERA and abalone densities. Thus, for some biotic characteristics, the relationship between NERA and abalone densities may be scalable. There was very little variability between depths and sites; however, the optimal spatial scale differed between locations. Our results suggest a dynamic interplay between the behavioural responses of H. rubra to microhabitat and/or to abalone maintaining NERA free of algae, sediment, and sessile invertebrates. This approach could be used to describe the relationship between habitat characteristics and species densities at the optimal spatial scales.

Keywords: correlation, H. rubra, percentage cover, quantile regression, scale-dependent.


We thank those who assisted with fieldwork, particularly Bob Connell, Michael Davis and Richard Holmes. This study was part of a PhD supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award. The research was supported by Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute and Tasmanian Abalone Council grants. The research was undertaken using the permits 5003, 5182 and 7038 issued by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Tasmania. We thank the editor Professor Andrew Boulton and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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