Skip to main content

Abiotic Cycles Mediate the Strength of Cross-Boundary Consumption Within Coastal Food Webs


Understanding the effect of habitat edges on species interactions (e.g. predation) is critical for determining landscape-scale patterns in productivity and the structuring of communities in an ever-changing environment. Both abiotic cycles and habitat structure can mediate faunal movements across habitat edges and determine predators’ ability to access prey across both space and time. To quantify the effects of cyclical abiotic factors and habitat structure on consumer-resource dynamics across habitat boundaries at the land-sea interface, four complementary studies were conducted. Marsh periwinkles Littoraria irrorata were tethered within salt marshes of varying tidal amplitude, at 3 distances from the marsh edge, and assessed for predation after 24 h. Nekton catch rate was assessed with fyke net sampling as a proxy for predator utilization of the marsh platform. Consumption rates were positively correlated with tidal amplitude and proximity to the seaward marsh edge, and there was also a slight positive relationship between tidal amplitude and nekton access to the marsh. Tidal amplitude was positively correlated with Spartina alterniflora shoot density and negatively correlated with shoot height. Therefore, to separate the effects of habitat structure from tidal forcing, independent manipulations of shoot density and shoot height were conducted. We found that the signal of local habitat structure on consumption rates appears to be secondary to the effects of abiotic cycles on consumption. Disentangling the interactions between abiotic cycles and biotic structure of ecosystems across ecological boundaries is key to understanding both the strengths of species interactions and the mediation of cross-boundary energy flow.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Data Availability

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at (doi:


  1. Aguilar, F.J., J.P. Mills, J. Delgado, M.A. Aguilar, J.G. Negreiros, and J.L. Pérez. 2010. Modelling vertical error in LiDAR-derived digital elevation models. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 65 (1): 103–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baker, R., B. Fry, L.P. Rozas, and T.J. Minello. 2013. Hydrodynamic regulation of salt marsh contributions to aquatic food webs. Marine Ecology Progress Series 490: 37–52.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Baker, H.K., J.A. Nelson, and H.M. Leslie. 2016. Quantifying striped bass (Morone saxatilis) dependence on saltmarsh-derived productivity using stable isotope analysis. Estuaries and Coasts 39 (5): 1537–1542.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Carroll, J.M., L.J. Jackson, and B.J. Peterson. 2015. The effect of increasing habitat complexity on bay scallop survival in the presence of different decapod crustacean predators. Estuaries and Coasts 38 (5): 1569–1579.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Deegan, L.A., J.E. Hughes, and R.A. Rountree. 2000. Salt marsh ecosystem support of marine transient species. In Concepts and controversies in tidal marsh ecology, ed. M.P. Weinstein and D.A. Kreeger, 333–365. Dordrecht: Springer.

  6. Duffy, J.E., S.L. Ziegler, J.E. Campbell, P.M. Bippus, and J.S. Lefcheck. 2015. Squidpops: a simple tool to crowdsource a global map of marine predation intensity. PLoS One 10 (11): e0142994.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Edwards, M., and A.J. Richardson. 2004. Impact of climate change on marine pelagic phenology and trophic mismatch. Nature 430 (7002): 881–884.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Fagan, W.F., R.S. Cantrell, and C. Cosner. 1999. How habitat edges change species interactions. The American Naturalist 153 (2): 165–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Gorman, D., and S.D. Connell. 2009. Recovering subtidal forests in human-dominated landscapes. Journal of Applied Ecology 46 (6): 1258–1265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Grover, M.C., and H.M. Wilbur. 2002. Ecology of ecotones: interactions between salamanders on a complex environmental gradient. Ecology 83 (8): 2112–2123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kirwan, M.L., G.R. Guntenspergen, A. D’Alpaos, J.T. Morris, S.M. Mudd, and S. Temmerman. 2010. Limits on the adaptability of coastal marshes to rising sea level. Geophysical Research Letters 37 (23): L23401.

  12. Kneib, R.T. 1997. Early life stages of resident nekton in intertidal marshes. Estuaries 20 (1): 214–230.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kneib, R.T. 2000. Salt marsh ecoscapes and production transfers by estuarine nekton in the southeastern United States. In Concepts and controversies in tidal marsh ecology, ed. M.P. Weinstein and D.A. Kreeger, 267–291. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Kotler, Burt P., Joel S. Brown, and Hasson Oren. 1991. Factors affecting gerbil foraging behavior and rates of owl predation. Ecology 72 (6): 2249–2260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Lewis, D.B., and L.A. Eby. 2002. Spatially heterogeneous refugia and predation risk in intertidal salt marshes. Oikos 96 (1): 119–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Mattila, J., K. Heck, E. Millstein, E. Miller, C. Gustafsson, S. Williams, and D. Byron. 2008. Increased habitat structure does not always provide increased refuge from predation. Marine Ecology Progress Series 361: 15–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Menge, B.A., and J.P. Sutherland. 1987. Community regulation: variation in disturbance, competition, and predation in relation to environmental stress and recruitment. The American Naturalist 130 (5): 730–757.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Minello, T.J., and L.P. Rozas. 2002. Nekton in gulf coast wetlands: fine-scale distributions, landscape patterns, and restoration implications. Ecological Applications 12 (2): 441–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Minello, T.J., L.P. Rozas, and R. Baker. 2012. Geographic variability in salt marsh flooding patterns may affect nursery value for fishery species. Estuaries and Coasts 35 (2): 501–514.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Nakano, S., and M. Murakami. 2001. Reciprocal subsidies: dynamic interdependence between terrestrial and aquatic food webs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 (1): 166–170.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Nelson, J., R. Wilson, F. Coleman, C. Koenig, D. DeVries, C. Gardner, and J. Chanton. 2012. Flux by fin: fish-mediated carbon and nutrient flux in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Marine Biology 159 (2): 365–372.

  22. Polis, G.A., and S.D. Hurd. 1996. Linking marine and terrestrial food webs: allochthonous input from the ocean supports high secondary productivity on small islands and coastal land communities. The American Naturalist 147 (3): 396–423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Polis, G.A., and D.R. Strong. 1996. Food web complexity and community dynamics. The American Naturalist 147 (5): 813–846.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Potthoff, M.T., and D.M. Allen. 2003. Site fidelity, home range, and tidal migrations of juvenile pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides, in salt marsh creeks. Environmental Biology of Fishes 67 (3): 231–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Renner, S.S., and C.M. Zohner. 2018. Climate change and phenological mismatch in trophic interactions among plants, insects, and vertebrates. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 49 (1): 165–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Rozas, L.P. 1995. Hydroperiod and its influence on nekton use of the salt marsh: a pulsing ecosystem. Estuaries 18 (4): 579–590.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Shervette, V.R., and F. Gelwick. 2008. Relative nursery function of oyster, vegetated marsh edge, and nonvegetated bottom habitats for juvenile white shrimp Litopenaeus setiferus. Wetlands Ecology and Management 16 (5): 405–419.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Turner, R.E. 1977. Intertidal vegetation and commercial yields of penaeid shrimp. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 106: 411–416 Taylor & Francis.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Wolter, K.M. 2007. The jackknife method. Statistics for Social and Behavioral Sciences. In Introduction to variance estimation, ed. K.M. Wolter, 151–193. New York: Springer.

  30. Yahner, R.H. 1988. Changes in wildlife communities near edges. Conservation Biology 2 (4): 333–339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Yeager, L.A., E.W. Stoner, J.R. Peters, and C.A. Layman. 2016. A terrestrial-aquatic food web subsidy is potentially mediated by multiple predator effects on an arboreal crab. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 475: 73–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Zimmerman, R.J., T.J. Minello, and L.P. Rozas. 2000. Salt marsh linkages to productivity of penaeid shrimps and blue crabs in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In Concepts and controversies in tidal marsh ecology, ed. M.P. Weinstein and D.A. Kreeger, 293–314. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank L. Clance, J. Geyer, C. Miller, M. Tice-Lewis, I. Neylan, D. Kochan, T. Pfeifer, A. Brodmerkel, K. McQuillan, A. Henderson, and S. Tulevech for valuable assistance in the field. Thanks to the North Carolina Coastal Federation for granting access to Hoop Pole Creek and T. Alphin at UNCW for access to the Wilmington site.


This study was supported by funding from the NC DMF Coastal Recreational Fish License (CRFL) Marine Resources Fund, a North Carolina Sea Grant Coastal Policy Fellowship to C.S. Smith and a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to the Coastal Waters Consortium.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shelby L. Ziegler.

Ethics declarations


All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed (IACUC 15-194.0).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Communicated by Matthew D. Taylor

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ziegler, S.L., Miller, M.D., Smith, C.S. et al. Abiotic Cycles Mediate the Strength of Cross-Boundary Consumption Within Coastal Food Webs. Estuaries and Coasts 44, 1147–1156 (2021).

Download citation


  • Consumer-resource interactions
  • Salt marsh
  • Tidal inundation
  • Habitat structure
  • Edge