Nutrient enrichment and food web composition affect ecosystem metabolism in an experimental seagrass habitat. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Food web composition and resource levels can influence ecosystem properties such as productivity and elemental cycles. In particular, herbivores occupy a central place in food webs as the species richness and composition of this trophic level may simultaneously influence the transmission of resource and predator effects to higher and lower trophic levels, respectively. Yet, these interactions are poorly understood. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Using an experimental seagrass mesocosm system, we factorially manipulated water column nutrient concentrations, food chain length, and diversity of crustacean grazers to address two questions: (1) Does food web composition modulate the effects of nutrient enrichment on plant and grazer biomasses and stoichiometry? (2) Do ecosystem fluxes of dissolved oxygen and nutrients more closely reflect above-ground biomass and community structure or sediment processes? Nutrient enrichment and grazer presence generally had strong effects on biomass accumulation, stoichiometry, and ecosystem fluxes, whereas predator effects were weaker or absent. Nutrient enrichment had little effect on producer biomass or net ecosystem production but strongly increased seagrass nutrient content, ecosystem flux rates, and grazer secondary production, suggesting that enhanced production was efficiently transferred from producers to herbivores. Gross ecosystem production (oxygen evolution) correlated positively with above-ground plant biomass, whereas inorganic nutrient fluxes were unrelated to plant or grazer biomasses, suggesting dominance by sediment microbial processes. Finally, grazer richness significantly stabilized ecosystem processes, as predators decreased ecosystem production and respiration only in the zero- and one- species grazer treatments. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Overall, our results indicate that consumer presence and species composition strongly influence ecosystem responses to nutrient enrichment, and that increasing herbivore diversity can stabilize ecosystem flux rates in the face of perturbations.

publication date

  • October 15, 2009