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Plant-animal diversity relationships in a rocky intertidal system depend on invertebrate body size and algal cover.

  • Author(s): Best, Rebecca J;
  • Chaudoin, Ambre L;
  • Bracken, Matthew ES;
  • Graham, Michael H;
  • Stachowicz, John J
  • et al.

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Considerable research has examined the influence of herbivores on the maintenance of plant diversity, but fewer studies have examined the reciprocal effect of plant diversity on the animals that use the plant community for food and shelter, particularly in marine systems. Several mechanisms could underlie such effects. Animal diversity and abundance could be increased by complementary use of different plants by different animals, or by an indirect effect of plant diversity on plant production that results in more total plant biomass in high plant-diversity communities. Alternatively, plant species identity could play a dominant role leading to sampling effects or no effect of diversity at all. We conducted a six-year field manipulation of the richness of rocky shore seaweeds in northern California and measured the effects of algal richness and identity on the invertebrate community, from meiofauna to macrofauna. We found that diverse algal communities hosted more species of both large and small invertebrates than the average algal monoculture but that the mechanisms underlying this pattern differed substantially for organisms of different size. More species of macrofauna occurred in the polycultures than in any of the monocultures, likely due to the greater total cover of algae produced in polycultures. Rare and common macrofaunal taxa responded to host plant species richness in opposite ways, with more occurrences of rare taxa and lower abundance of very common taxa in the polycultures. In contrast, meiofaunal richness in polycultures was no different than that of monocultures of finely branched species, leading to strong effects of algal identity. Our findings are similar to those from terrestrial systems in that the effects of plant diversity we observed were most related to the greater amount of habitat in polycultures as a result of overyielding in algal biomass. However, our findings differ from those in terrestrial systems in that the primary mechanisms for both richness and identity effects appear related to the value of plants as shelter from harsh abiotic conditions or predation rather than food, and in that animal body size altered the mechanisms underlying diversity effects.

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