Relative effects ofLittoraria irrorata andProkelisia marginata onSpartina alterniflora
Spartina alterniflora salt marshes along the southeastern United States are some of the most productive and well studied ecosystems in the world. The role of physicochemical forces in regulatingSpartina growth is well understood, while the importance of grazers remains less clear. Recent studies have shown that the abundant marsh periwinkle,Littoraria irrorata, can exert strong control overSpartina through its grazing activities, but relatively little is known about its relative effects in comparison to other marsh plant consumers. To test the relative importance of snail and insect consumers onSpartina biomass, we conducted a 7-mo field experiment testing top-down regulation ofSpartina with all combinations ofL. irrorata (removed, control, c. 215 periwinkles m−2) andSpartina planthopper,Prokelisia marginata (removed, control). Snail removal resulted in a 50% increase inSpartina biomass while removal of planthoppers had no detectable effect. Planthopper density also increased by 50% when snails were excluded. In this South Carolina marsh,L. irrorata exerts a stronger top-down control ofSpartina thanP. marginata. These results indicate trophic cascade regulation ofSpartina salt marsh is more likely to occur through the predator(s)-Littoraria-plant interaction than through the predator(s)-Prokelisia-plant relationship.
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