Master of Science (M.Sc.)
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
The relative strength of bottom-up and top-down processes operating within food webs is a fundamental determinant of community structure and function. In marine systems, inconspicuous but often highly abundant invertebrate herbivores (mesograzers) are implicated as strong consumers of primary production and important prey for higher-order consumers. Because of their small size, however, mesograzer abundance is not easily manipulated in the field, which limits our ability to adequately assess their grazing impacts. Seagrass systems present a pressing need for the study of food web dynamics because anthropogenic nutrient and sediment inputs decrease the amount of light reaching seagrass leaves, which limits the depth distribution of seagrasses via reduced photosynthesis to respiration ratios. Mesograzers benefit seagrass through their consumption of epiphytic algae and thus may mitigate the loss of seagrass beds due to nutrient enrichment. I test the relative impacts of nutrient enrichment and crustacean mesograzer abundance on epiphytes in a natural seagrass bed without using cages. My work presents the first cage-free tests of crustacean mesograzing impacts in natural seagrass communities. I successfully decreased crustacean abundance for extended periods of time in multiple experiments using a degradable chemical deterrent. Crustacean mesograzer reduction led to concomitant increases in epiphytic algal biomass, while nutrients increased epiphytes only in the absence of mesograzers. My results validate early work from mesocosm and field cage studies designed to test grazing impacts of mesograzers and support the hypothesis that mesograzers indirectly benefit seagrass through a positive indirect interaction.
© The Author
Whalen, Matthew A., "Basal Food Web Dynamics in a Natural Eelgrass (Zostera marina) Community: Cage-Free Field Experimentation" (2011). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. Paper 1539617904.