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Community context mediates the top‐down vs. bottom‐up effects of grazers on rocky shores

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Interactions between grazers and autotrophs are complex, including both top-down consumptive and bottom-up facilitative effects of grazers. Thus, in addition to consuming autotrophs, herbivores can also enhance autotroph biomass by recycling limiting nutrients, thereby increasing nutrient availability. Here, we evaluated these consumptive and facilitative interactions between snails (Littorina littorea) and seaweeds (Fucus vesiculosus and Ulva lactuca) on a rocky shore. We partitioned herbivores' total effects on seaweeds into their consumptive and facilitative effects and evaluated how community context (the presence of another seaweed species) modified the effects of Littorina on a focal seaweed species. Ulva, the more palatable species, enhanced the facilitative effects of Littorina on Fucus. Ulva did not modify the consumptive effect of Littorina on Fucus. Taken together, the consumptive and facilitative effects of snails on Fucus in the presence of Ulva balanced each other, resulting in no net effect of Littorina on Fucus. In contrast, the only effect of Fucus on Ulva was to enhance consumptive effects of Littorina on Ulva. Our results highlight the necessity of considering both consumptive and facilitative effects of herbivores on multiple autotroph species in order to gain a mechanistic understanding of grazers' top-down and bottom-up roles in structuring communities.

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