Herbivore-alga interaction strength influences spatial heterogeneity in a kelp-dominated intertidal community

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There is a general consensus that marine herbivores can affect algal species composition and abundance, but little empirical work exists on the role of herbivores as modifiers of the spatial structure of resource assemblages. Here, we test the consumption/bulldozing effects of the molluscan grazer Enoplochiton Niger and its influence on the spatial structure of a low intertidal community dominated by the bull kelp Durvillaea antarctica and the kelp Lessonia spicata. Through field experiments conducted at a rocky intertidal shore in northcentral Chile (∼30° -32° S), the edge of the grazer and algae geographic distributions, we estimated the strength and variability of consumptive effects of the grazer on different functional group of algae. We also used data from abundance field surveys to evaluate spatial co-occurrence patterns of the study species. Exclusion-enclosure experiments showed that E. Niger maintained primary space available by preventing algal colonization, even of large brown algae species. The grazing activity of E. Niger also reduced spatial heterogeneity of the ephemeral algal species, increasing bare space availability and variability through time in similar ways to those observed for the collective effect with other grazers. Overall, our result suggests that E. Niger can be considered an important modifier of the spatial structure of the large brown algae-dominated community. Effects of E. Niger on resource variability seem to be directly related to its foraging patterns, large body size, and population densities, which are all relevant factors for management and conservation of the large brown algae community. Our study thus highlights the importance of considering functional roles and identity of generalist consumers on spatial structure of the entire landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0137287
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
StatePublished - 11 Sep 2015


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