Species-specific traits are relevant to understand variation in the effect of grazers on primary producers and are critical in determining their functional roles as controllers of productivity in marine ecosystems. In intertidal habitats, periphyton, composed of bacteria, cyanophytes, microalgae and early stages of macroalgae, constitutes the main food for many benthic grazers. Using field experiments, we examined the overall effect of grazers and the importance of direct and indirect effects of different grazer species on periphyton composition, richness, diversity and productivity. We manipulated the main grazer species present along Chilean rocky shores, en - closing adult individuals of the keyhole limpet Fissurella crassa, the chiton Chiton granosus, the scurrinid limpet Scurria araucana and the pulmonate limpet Siphonaria lessoni. These organisms overlap broadly in diet but exhibit differences in foraging behavior. Differences in the individual effects of grazer species on periphyton productivity, as well as on richness and diversity charac - terized the assemblage. C. granosus grazing led to lower periphyton productivity, richness and diversity compared with all other grazers, who had positive effects for all variables. Richness and diversity of the major periphyton groups were maximal at intermediate levels of total grazing pressure, highlighting the importance of ecological interactions within the periphyton assemblage. Our results demonstrate the complexity of functional roles and relationships of grazers involved in the control of composition and production of the periphyton assemblage. Given the importance of direct and indirect effects of grazers, understanding species interactions within the microbenthic community can shed light on the mechanisms through which herbivores modify community structure and productivity.
- Foraging behavior
- Grazer assemblage