Consumers regulate nutrient limitation regimes and primary production in seagrass ecosystems

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: D. E. Schindler.

Abstract

Consumer-mediated nutrient supply is increasingly recognized as an important functional process in many ecosystems. Yet, experimentation at relevant spatial and temporal scales is needed to fully integrate this bottom-up pathway into ecosystem models. Artificial reefs provide a unique approach to explore the importance of consumer nutrient supply for ecosystem function in coastal marine environments. We used bioenergetics models to estimate community-level nutrient supply by fishes, and relevant measures of primary production, to test the hypothesis that consumers, via excretion of nutrients, can enhance primary production and alter nutrient limitation regimes for two dominant primary producer groups (seagrass and benthic microalgae) around artificial reefs. Both producer groups demonstrated marked increases in production, as well as shifts in nutrient limitation regimes, with increased fish-derived nutrient supply. Individuals from the two dominant functional feeding groups (herbivores and mesopredators) supplied nutrients at divergent rates and ratios from one another, underscoring the importance of community structure for nutrient supply to primary producers. Our findings demonstrate that consumers, through an underappreciated bottom-up mechanism in marine environments, can alter nutrient limitation regimes and primary production, thereby fundamentally affecting the way these ecosystems function.

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