Potential explanatory variables often co-vary in studies of species richness. Where topography varies within a survey it is difficult to separate area and habitat-diversity effects. Topographically complex surfaces may contain more species due to increased habitat diversity or as a result of increased area per se. Fractal geometry can be used to adjust species richness estimates to control for increases in area on complex surfaces. Application of fractal techniques to a survey of rocky shores demonstrated an unambiguous area-independent effect of topography on species richness in the Isle of Man. In contrast, variation in species richness in south-west England reflected surface availability alone. Multivariate tests and variation in limpet abundances also demonstrated regional variation in the area-independent effects of topography. Community composition did not vary with increasing surface complexity in south-west England. These results suggest large-scale gradients in the effects of heterogeneity on community processes or demography.
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