Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Coastal seagrass ecosystems are complex habitats that are increasingly influenced by human perturbations. Disturbances that affect the strength of bottom-up (i.e. resource availability) and top-down (i.e. consumer) controls may also influence biomass distribution between trophic levels, sediment biogeochemistry, and seagrass ecosystem metabolism. Here, I experimentally tested how top-down and bottom-up perturbations interact with community structure (diversity, food chain length of epibenthic consumers) to alter sediment biogeochemistry and ecosystem metabolism in an experimental eelgrass (Zostera marina ) system. My data indicated that resource availability influenced SOM composition and ecosystem metabolism. Light availability tended to be a stronger determinant of SOM composition while nutrient enrichment affected secondary production of invertebrate grazers more strongly than primary producers or SOM. Top-down predator effects on SOM composition and ecosystem flux rates tended to be weak. However, the strength of the trophic cascade may partly be a function of grazer community composition and grazer susceptibility to predation. Finally, my results indicated that grazer species identity and community composition strongly influenced SOM composition. In addition to the main effects of light, nutrients, predators, and grazers there were a variety of interactive effects between resources and food web composition. Consequently, the effects of resource availability and food web composition on seagrass ecosystem functioning should not be considered in isolation.



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