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Keywords:

  • Diversity;
  • herbivory;
  • Idothea;
  • Littorina;
  • microphytobenthos;
  • periphyton;
  • spatial heterogeneity

Benthic microalgae and the herbivores Idothea chelipes (Isopoda) and Littorina littorea (Gastropoda) were used as an experimental model system to study the effect of herbivore type on primary producer diversity. Both herbivores enhanced diversity at intermediate grazing pressures, the enhancing effect being stronger with Littorina. This difference is explained by differences in the spatial heterogeneity of the grazed microalgal biofilm caused by behavioural differences in spatial grazing patterns. Idothea spreads its grazing pressure rather evenly in space (“lawn-mower” type), whereas Littorina creates pronounced spatial heterogeneity by moving slowly over the biofilm and decimating it within the grazing tracks (“bulldozer” type). Idothea grazing did not enhance biomass patchiness beyond the level of ungrazed controls (maximum/minimum from 1.7 to 5.5), whereas Littorina strongly increased patchiness (maximum/minimum from 45 to 850).