Abstract A mathematical model has been developed to study the distribution and abundance of benthic algae species in a Norwegian fjord. The main forcing functions are the physical factors which have well defined gradients in this area, but biotic interactions are also accounted for in the model. The distribution of algae along vertical transects in the intermediate fjord area has been simulated, and the observed distribution is reproduced fairly well. This indicates that the major factors determining the equilibrium elevation between intertidal and subtidal vegetations in this area are adequately represented in the model. Based on observations in a fjord branch with a high level of freshwater influx and polluted by heavy metals, assumptions are made of the combined influence of these contaminants on growth characteristics of the species considered. The resulting effects on community development and community patterns are simulated. For a certain level of contamination, the decrease in abundance, community development rate and species separation have been determined. It is also shown that the fluctuations in biomass during a year are more pronounced than under unaffected conditions. The relative importance of external growth regulating factors and self-shading is demonstrated for different degrees of community development, and we have indicated that this may be an important factor in the assessment of transient and long-term responses to “natural” and man-made influences on the shore-line vegetation. One of the main problems during model development was the formulation of the interaction function for factors influencing growth parameters. Several alternatives were examined. The differences between the most frequently used forms were small with respect to abundance and not very large with respect to possible changes in distribution. It was noted that even by including only the most limiting factor at each instant, (Liebig's form) a high percentage of the potentially limiting factors did actually limit growth during periods of the year. The model is intended as a working tool for the studies of changes in the shore-line vegetation caused by man-made interferences like heavy metal and oil pollution, and we believe that the results presented demonstrate that it can successfully be used for this purpose.