Patterns of epibenthic species settlement, growth and turnover were examined during 5 years on an artificial reef, composed of 280 concrete blocks (2·2·2 m), covering an area of 6 ha located 2.7 km offshore and in 12–14 m depths along the Tyrrhenian coast (Italy).
Colonization and defaunation curves for sessile, motile and all species were compiled. Chronological classification analysis was performed in order to display the series of biotic changes in the benthic community during its development. Following a first settlement of pioneer species (hydroids,
serpulids, barnacles), mussels became dominant for the next 2 years. Mussels widely colonized the reef in this second period and altered both the quantity and quality of substratum available for settlement. Afterwards, silt and sediment deposits on the hard substrata gradually created a soft
surface and therefore modified the conditions for mussels and other hard-bottom species. In this third period, new species appeared and the structure of the community changed. Results showed a series of progressive modifications in the structure of the benthic community, while an actual stable
steady-state appeared not to have been reached. Mussels on artificial reefs cannot therefore be considered a renewable resource on unmovable substrata, because their economic importance seems to be limited to the first years of colonization on the new surfaces. Removable artificial supports
for mussel culture can be used for this objective as one component of a multipurpose artificial reef.
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