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Habitat structure influences the diversity and distribution of organisms, potentially affecting their response to disturbances by either affecting their ‘susceptibility’ or through the provision of resources that can mitigate impacts of disturbances. Chemical disturbances due to contamination are associated with decreases in diversity and functioning of systems and are also likely to increase due to coastal urbanisation. Understanding how habitat structure interacts with contaminants is essential to predict and therefore manage such effects, minimising their consequences to marine systems. Here, we manipulated two structurally different habitats and exposed them to different types of contaminants. Effects of contamination and habitat structure interacted, affecting species richness. More complex experimental habitats were colonized by a greater diversity of organisms than the less complex habitats. These differences disappeared, however, when habitats were exposed to contaminants, suggesting that contaminants can override effects of habitats structure at small spatial scales. These results provide insight into the complex ways that habitat structure and contamination interact and the need to incorporate evidence of biotic responses from individual disturbances to multiple stressors. Such effects need to be taken into account when designing and planning management and conservation strategies to natural systems.
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