, Volume 163, Issue 1, pp 181–191 | Cite as

Abiotic stress mediates top-down and bottom-up control in a Southwestern Atlantic salt marsh

  • Juan AlbertiEmail author
  • Agustina Méndez Casariego
  • Pedro Daleo
  • Eugenia Fanjul
  • Brian Silliman
  • Mark Bertness
  • Oscar Iribarne
Community ecology - Original paper


Increasing evidence has shown that nutrients and consumers interact to control primary productivity in natural systems, but how abiotic stress affects this interaction is unclear. Moreover, while herbivores can strongly impact zonation patterns in a variety of systems, there are few examples of this in salt marshes. We evaluated the effect of nutrients and herbivores on the productivity and distribution of the cordgrass Spartina densiflora along an intertidal stress gradient, in a Southwestern Atlantic salt marsh. We characterized abiotic stresses (salinity, ammonium concentration, and anoxia) and manipulated nutrients and the presence of the herbivorous crab Neohelice (Chasmagnathus) granulata, at different tidal heights with a factorial experiment. Abiotic stress increased at both ends of the tidal gradient. Salinity and anoxia were highest at the upper and lower edge of the intertidal, respectively. Nutrients and herbivory interacted to control cordgrass biomass, but their relative importance varied with environmental context. Herbivory increased at lower tidal heights to the point that cordgrass transplants onto bare mud substrate were entirely consumed unless crabs were excluded, while nutrients were most important where abiotic stress was reduced. Our results show how the impact of herbivores and nutrients on plant productivity can be dependent on environmental conditions and that the lower intertidal limits of marsh plants can be controlled by herbivory.


Herbivory Neohelice granulata Nutrients Spartina densiflora Tidal stress gradient 



We thank M. Escapa, M. Valiñas, M. Bruschetti, E. García, A. García Coni and A. Canepuccia for help in the field and processing samples. We also thank P. Clarke and two anonymous reviewers for kindly suggesting valuable corrections on previous versions of this manuscript, and for pointing out Darwin’s comments on species distributional patterns. This project was supported by Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Fundación Antorchas (grant no. 13900-13), ANPCyT, and CONICET (all granted to O. I.) and a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation (to M. D. B.) and a Young Investigator grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to B. S. J. A., A. M. C., P. D. and E. F. were supported by post-doctoral scholarships from CONICET. Experiments comply with the current laws of Argentina, where they were performed.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 9 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 16 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (PDF 16 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (PDF 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan Alberti
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Agustina Méndez Casariego
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pedro Daleo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Eugenia Fanjul
    • 1
    • 2
  • Brian Silliman
    • 3
  • Mark Bertness
    • 4
  • Oscar Iribarne
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratorio de Ecología, Departamento de Biología (FCEyN)Universidad Nacional de Mar del PlataMar del PlataArgentina
  2. 2.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Ciudad de Buenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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