, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 753-769

First online:

Salt marsh litter and detritivores: A closer look at redundancy

  • Martin ZimmerAffiliated withZoologisches Institut—Limnologie, Christian-Albrechts-Universität Email author 
  • , Steven C. PenningsAffiliated withUniversity of Georgia Marine Institute
  • , Tracy L. BuckAffiliated withUniversity of Georgia Marine Institute
  • , Thomas H. CarefootAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of British Columbia

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Most primary production of angiosperms in coastal salt marshes enters the detritivore food web; studies of this link have predominantly focused on one plant species (Spartina alterniflora) and one detritivore species (Littoraria irrorata). In mesocosm experiments, we studied the rates and pattern of decomposition of litter derived from four plant species common in southeastern United States coastal salt marshes and marsh-fringing terrestrial habitats. Crustanceans and gastropods were selected as detritivores feeding on, and affecting degradation of, the litter of two monocotyledons and two dicotyledons. Despite interspecific similarities in consumption, detritivores exhibited species-specific effects on litter chemistry and on the activity of litter-colonizing microbiota. The chemical composition of feces depended upon both the litter type and the detritivores’ species-specific digestive capabilities. Growth rates and survival of detritivores differed among litter species. Different salt marsh detritivores are likely to have different effects on decomposition processes in the salt marsh and cannot be regarded as functionally redundant nor can the litter of different plant species be regard ed as redundant as food for marsh detritivores.