An annual study on hard-substrate meiofaunal assemblages was carried out at 2 depths (2.5 and 8 m) along a vertical cliff of the Middle Adriatic (Mediterranean Sea) characterised by different macroalgal canopies and structural substrate complexities. The upper sampling area of the rocky cliff was covered by macroalgae, and its upper limit was characterised by the presence of a dense belt of Mytilus galloprovincialis. At 8 m depth, mussels were not present, the algal assemblage was less diversified, and phytal coverage decreased. Dynamics and community structure of meio-fauna-inhabiting hard substrates were compared with those of meiofauna collected from soft sediments at the cliff base (9 m depth). Meiofauna of hard and soft substrates displayed significant differences both in terms of density (7-fold higher in soft substrates) and assemblage structure. Meiofauna from rocky substrates were dominated by crustaceans (copepods, nauplii and amphipods), while soft sediments were largely dominated by nematodes (ca 90%). Significant temporal changes of meiofaunal density were observed on both hard and soft substrates, with higher densities in spring to summer and lowest abundance in winter, Despite a completely different algal assemblage and coverage at 2.5 and 8 m depths, hard substrates displayed very similar meiofaunal densities and community structure. Crustacean taxa were correlated with algal coverage, Polychaetes inhabiting hard substrates increased their relevance with depth, whilst amphipods, being significantly correlated with algal biomass, decreased. Nematodes were related with the structural complexity index, calculated on the basis of macroalgal geometric complexity and biomass, whereas copepod and nauplius densities were related with the total structural complexity (as a sum of the algal complexity). The results of the present study indicate that the nature of the substrate (hard vs soft) is the main factor responsible for the differences observed between hard- and soft-bottom meiofauna assemblages, whereas phytal coverage and substrate complexity influenced the structure of hard bottom meiofaunal assemblages. Finally, the analysis of spatial variability of meiofaunal assemblages indicates that hydrodynamic stress also played an important role in meiofaunal structure and distribution on hard substrates, especially at shallow depths
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