Community Ecology

Oecologia

, Volume 147, Issue 3, pp 556-564

First online:

A continental scale evaluation of the role of limpet grazing on rocky shores

  • Ross A. ColemanAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of SouthamptonCentre for Research on Ecological Impact of Coastal Cities, Marine Ecology Laboratories (A11), University of SydneySchool of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth Email author 
  • , Antony J. UnderwoodAffiliated withCentre for Research on Ecological Impact of Coastal Cities, Marine Ecology Laboratories (A11), University of Sydney
  • , Lisandro  Benedetti-CecchiAffiliated withDipartimento di Scienze dell’Uomo e dell’Ambientale, Università di Pisa
  • , Per ÅbergAffiliated withDepartment of Marine Ecology, Göteborg University
  • , Francisco ArenasAffiliated withDept. de Biologia de Organismos y Sistemas, Universidad de OviedoThe Laboratory, The Marine Biological Association of the UK
  • , Julio ArrontesAffiliated withDept. de Biologia de Organismos y Sistemas, Universidad de Oviedo
  • , João CastroAffiliated withLaboratório de Ciêncas do Mar, Universidade de Évora
  • , Richard G. HartnollAffiliated withPort Erin Marine Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool
  • , Stuart R. JenkinsAffiliated withPort Erin Marine Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, University of LiverpoolThe Laboratory, The Marine Biological Association of the UK
    • , José PaulaAffiliated withIMAR-Laboratório Marítimo da Guia, Universidade de Lisboa, Estrada do Guincho
    • , Paolo Della SantinaAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton
    • , Stephen J. HawkinsAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of SouthamptonThe Laboratory, The Marine Biological Association of the UK

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Abstract

It is critical for our knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystem processes to understand how individual species contribute to ecosystem processes and how these contributions vary in space and time. We used a manipulative field experiment in five locations over 17° of latitude [from southern Portugal to the Isle of Man (British Isles)] to determine the relative response of rocky intertidal algal assemblages released from control by the grazing of limpets. Response ratios showed that when limpets were removed there was a trend of effects from north to south. In the north, grazing had a strong effect on algal assemblages, but removing grazers reduced spatial variability in assemblages. In the south, the effect of limpet grazing was far weaker and removal of grazers had a much reduced impact on spatial variability. Here we show a clear trophic control of an ecosystem in that grazing by limpets not only determines macroalgal abundance overall but also modifies ecosystem stability via variability in cover of algae.

Keywords

Algae Herbivory Biodiversity Meta-analysis Community