This paper reviews recent knowledge about the functional roles that herbivores have in intertidal communities in Chile. Specifically, I review field and laboratory studies dealing with the food preferences of herbivores, the responses of algae to herbivore attacks and reports of negative and positive functional effects of herbivores on algal populations and communities. Most herbivores studied are characterized as generalist species. Green ephemeral and a few corticated algae dominate diets, while all species considered ingest larvae and post-metamorphic stages of invertebrates challenging classical characterizations of the herbivore guild. Functional redundancy and complementarity within the herbivore guild is discussed in relation to both quantitative and qualitative evidence. The magnitude of consumptive per capita effects of herbivores on algae can be related, although not entirely, to body size. Feeding mode can determine differential species participation in different phases and stages of community succession. Positive effects of herbivores on algae via spore dispersion, and also compensatory potential after consumption, appear to match the classical model of the "grazing optimization hypothesis". Only one species that form "gardens" is reported, suggesting a lack of information regarding behavioural aspects of abundant taxa from intertidal habitats in Chile. According to variation in oceanographic conditions and thermal regimes along the coast of Chile, geographical variation in functional effects of herbivores and thereby shifts in the herbivore-algae balance is expected. Future studies should consider the functional relationship within the herbivore guild at different temporal and spatial scales, and compensatory potential after species loss. Whether herbivore species have either redundant or complementary roles in intertidal communities can help us to understand the intensity and direction of human impacts in both community structure and ecosystem functioning.
- Functional role