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Propagule supply controls grazer community structure and primary production in a benthic marine ecosystem

By Sarah C. Lee and John F. Bruno


Early theories of species diversity proposed that communities at equilibrium are saturated with species. However, experiments in plant communities suggest that many communities are unsaturated and species richness can be increased by adding propagules of new species. We experimentally tested for community saturation and measured the effects of propagule supply on community structure in a benthic marine system. We manipulated propagule supply (arrival of individuals of numerous species) of mobile grazers in experimental mesocosms over multiple generations and, unlike previous tests, we examined the cascading effects of propagule supply on prey (macroalgae) biomass. We found little evidence for saturation, despite the absence of processes such as disturbance and predation that are thought to alleviate saturation in nature. Increasing propagule supply increased the total number of species and made rare species more abundant. Perhaps surprisingly, given the strong effect of propagule supply on species richness, supply-related changes in body size and composition suggest that competitive interactions remained important. Grazer supply also had strong cascading effects on primary production, possibly because of dietary complementarity modified by territorial behavior. Our results indicate that propagule supply can directly influence the diversity and composition of communities of mobile animals. Furthermore, the supply of consumer propagules can have strong indirect effects on prey and fundamental ecosystem properties

Topics: Biological Sciences
Publisher: National Academy of Sciences
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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