Seaweed richness and herbivory increase rate of community recovery from disturbance

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: P. D. Steinberg.

Abstract

The importance of herbivores and of plant diversity for community succession and recovery from disturbance is well documented. However, few studies have assessed the relative magnitude of, or potential interactions between, these factors. To determine the combined effect of herbivory and surrounding algal species richness on the recovery of a rocky intertidal community, we conducted a 27-month field experiment assessing algal recruitment and succession in cleared patches that mimic naturally forming gaps in the ambient community. We crossed two herbivore treatments, ambient and reduced abundance, with monocultures and polycultures of the four most common algal species in a mid–high rocky intertidal zone of northern California. We found that both the presence of herbivores and high surrounding algal richness increased recovery rates, and the effect of algal richness was twice the magnitude of that of herbivores. The increased recovery rate of patches containing herbivores was due to the consumption of fast-growing, early colonist species that preempt space from perennial, late-successional species. Mechanisms linking algal richness and recovery are more numerous. In polycultures, herbivore abundance and species composition is altered, desiccation rates are lower, and propagule recruitment, survival, and growth are higher compared to monocultures, all of which could contribute the observed effect of surrounding species richness. Herbivory and species richness should jointly accelerate recovery wherever palatable species inhibit late-successional, herbivore-resistant species and recruitment and survival of new colonists is promoted by local species richness. These appear to be common features of rocky-shore seaweed, and perhaps other, communities.

Ancillary