Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


J. Emmett Duffy


Theory and small-scale experiments predict that biodiversity losses can decrease the magnitude and stability of ecosystem services such as production and nutrient cycling. Most of this research, however, has been isolated from spatial processes, such as dispersal and disturbance, which create and maintain diversity in nature. Since common anthropogenic drivers of biodiversity change, such as habitat fragmentation, species introductions, and climate change, are mediated by these understudied processes, it is unclear how environmental degradation will affect ecosystem services. This dissertation examines how diversity interacts with spatial processes to affect the magnitude and stability of ecosystem functions, using seagrass communities as a model system. Diverse communities were more resistant to colonization, but the order of species arrivals affected competition outcomes. as predicted, grazer metacommunities assembled from diverse species pools were more diverse at all scales, had larger grazer populations, and usually kept their primary food resource, epiphytic algae, at lower abundances than metacommunities assembled from smaller species pools. Counter to theory, increasing the number of mobile grazer species in these metacommunities increased spatial and temporal variability of producers and grazers. Effects of diversity on stability also differed qualitatively between patch and metacommunity scales. Moreover, allowing grazers to move among patches reduced diversity effects on production and modified relationships between grazer diversity and stability. Finally, dispersal significantly increased resistance to and recovery from a mimicked macroalgal bloom. However, diversity did not. None of the existing theories for biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships or consumer-resource metacommunity dynamics completely explained patterns observed in these experiments. Effects of diversity and dispersal on ecosystem functions were complex, but seemed to be influenced by habitat choice and synchronization of grazer and epiphyte dynamics among patches. Overall, these results emphasize the importance of incorporating spatial processes and trophic interactions into the study of biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships. This information is critical for conserving diversity and managing ecosystem services in light of the ongoing changes to regional species pools caused by anthropogenic disturbance.



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