Virginia Institute of Marine Science
MARINE ECOLOGY PROGRESS SERIES
Changes in biodiversity can result in decreased ecosystem functioning and loss of ecosystem services, but altered biodiversity is only one of many stressors impacting ecosystems. In many estuaries, environmental stressors such as warming water temperatures and eutrophication are increasing and negatively impacting biological communities, particularly seagrasses such as the important habitat-forming species Zostera marina (eelgrass). These negative impacts may change the diversity, composition, and functioning of this important ecosystem, but the interactions of stressors with changes in biodiversity are poorly understood. We manipulated eelgrass communities in a factorial experiment to test how changes in crustacean grazer diversity, warmer water temperatures, and nutrient enrichment interact to affect ecosystem biomass, stability, and community composition. We found that the presence and richness of crustacean grazers had a larger effect on grazer, algal, and sessile invertebrate biomass than experimental warming or nutrient enrichment. Diverse grazer assemblages stabilized epiphytic algal biomass in the face of stressors, and counteracted the promotion of epiphytic microalgae by stressors. Nutrient enrichment and warming both promoted epiphytic microalgae, while reducing macroalgae and eelgrass. A more diverse grazer assemblage stabilized epiphytic algal biomass, but we did not detect interactions among environmental stressors and grazer diversity. These results emphasize that loss of herbivore diversity can exacerbate the impacts of environmental stressors on grazing, relative dominance of microalgae versus macrophytes, producer biomass, and stability.
Diversity; Stressors; Eelgrass; Grazers
Blake, Rachael E. and Duffy, J. Emmett, Changes in biodiversity and environmental stressors influence community structure of an experimental eelgrass Zostera marina system (2012). MARINE ECOLOGY PROGRESS SERIES, 470, 41-54.