Simplification of seagrass food webs across a gradient of nutrient enrichment

Tewfik, A.; Rasmussen, J.B.; McCann, K.S. (2007). Simplification of seagrass food webs across a gradient of nutrient enrichment. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences v. 64 pp. 956-967
Anthropogenic nutrient enrichment has resulted in significant changes in food web structure. Although such changes have been associated with the loss of diversity and ecosystem services, little empirical work has been done to study food webs of similar systems across a nutrient enrichment gradient. We examined 11 seagrass beds along a gradient of increasing d15N of primary consumers, where d15N is used as an indicator of sewage-derived nutrients. Observations across this gradient revealed corresponding increases in consumer density and changes in distinct functional groups, whereas consumer diversity, seagrass canopy, and macrodetrital biomass decreased. However, maximum overall primary consumer diversity and minimum density occurred at intermediate levels along the nutrient gradient. We hypothesize that higher species diversity at low to moderate levels of nutrient enrichment depends on the persistence of grazer-resistant seagrass. This seagrass canopy, and the significant macrodetritus it generates, facilitates a variety of food and shelter resources. Overgrazed and simplified habitats may occur when densities of generalist urchins, capable of direct producer consumption, are no longer controlled through competition, predation, and intraguild predation. We hypothesize that high and stable urchin populations appear possible with the increased availability of allochthonous phytoplankton and associated particulate detritus that is a well-known consequence of nutrient enrichment in aquatic systems.
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