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Grazer diversity affects resistance to multiple stressors in an experimental seagrass ecosystem


R. E. Blake, Virginia Inst. of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, VA 23062, USA. E-mail:


When multiple stressors act simultaneously, their effects on ecosystems become more difficult to predict. In the face of multiple stressors, diverse ecosystems may be more stable if species respond differently to stressors or if functionally similar species can compensate for stressor effects on focal species. Many habitats around the globe are threatened by multiple stressors, including highly productive seagrass habitats. For example, in Chesapeake Bay, USA, regional climate change predictions suggest that elevated temperature and freshwater inputs are likely to be increasingly important stressors. Using seagrass mesocosms as a model system, we tested whether species richness of crustacean grazers buffers ecosystem properties against the impacts of elevated temperature and freshwater pulse stressors in a fully factorial experiment. Grazer species responded to pulsed salinity changes differently; abundance of Elasmopus levis responded negatively to freshwater pulses, whereas abundance of Gammarus mucronatus and Erichsonella attenuata responded positively or neutrally. Consistent with the hypothesis that biodiversity provides resistance stability, biomass of epiphytic algae that form the base of the food web was less affected by stressors in species-rich grazer treatments than in single-species grazer treatments. Stochastic (among-replicate) variation of sessile invertebrate biomass within treatments was also reduced in more diverse grazer treatments. Therefore, grazer species richness tended to increase the resistance stability of both major components of the seagrass fouling community, algae and invertebrates, in the face of environmental stressors. Finally, in our model system, multi-stressor impacts suggested a pattern of antagonism contrary to previous assumptions of synergistic stressor effects. Overall, our results confirm that invertebrate grazer species are functionally diverse in their response to environmental stressors, but are largely functionally redundant in their grazing effects leading to greater resistance stability of certain ecosystem properties in diverse grazer assemblages even when influenced by multiple environmental stressors.

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