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Keywords:

  • Biodiversity;
  • ecosystem functioning;
  • grazing;
  • marine;
  • seagrass;
  • secondary productivity

Abstract

High plant species richness can enhance primary production, animal diversity, and invasion resistance. Yet theory predicts that plant and herbivore diversity, which often covary in nature, should have countervailing effects on ecosystem properties. Supporting this, we show in a seagrass system that increasing grazer diversity reduced both algal biomass and total community diversity, and facilitated dominance of a grazer-resistant invertebrate. In parallel with previous plant results, however, grazer diversity enhanced secondary production, a critical determinant of fish yield. Although sampling explained some diversity effects, only the most diverse grazer assemblage maximized multiple ecosystem properties simultaneously, producing a distinct ecosystem state. Importantly, ecosystem responses at high grazer diversity often differed in magnitude and sign from those predicted from summed impacts of individual species. Thus, complex interactions, often opposing plant diversity effects, arose as emergent consequences of changing consumer diversity, advising caution in extrapolating conclusions from plant diversity experiments to food webs.