Intertidal invertebrates locally enhance primary production. Academic Article uri icon


  • The contribution of autochthonous vs. allochthonous inputs to productivity is an important determinant of ecosystem function across multiple habitats. In coastal marine systems, nutrients are thought to come primarily from the upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich water. Using experimental manipulations of a dominant tide pool animal, the mussel Mytilus californianus, I show that the presence of mussels greatly increases the supply of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus. Mussels further had a direct effect on productivity: benthic microalgal abundance increased by a factor of 4-8, while the growth of a red alga was four times greater in the presence of mussels. The increase in nitrite and nitrate associated with mussels further suggests nitrifying activity by microbes. These findings have broad implications for coastal marine systems, including that regenerated nutrients may contribute more to productivity than previously recognized and that the presence of animal-generated nutrients sets the stage for numerous positive interactions.

publication date

  • July 2007