Multi-scale habitat modification by coexisting ecosystem engineers drives spatial separation of macrobenthic functional groups

Serena Donadi, Tjisse van der Heide, Theunis Piersma, Els M. van der Zee, Ellen J. Weerman, Johan van de Koppel, Han Olff, Clare Devine, Udhi E. Hernawan, Myra Boers, Linda Planthof, Britas Klemens Eriksson

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By changing habitat conditions, ecosystem engineers increase niche diversity and have profound effects on the distribution and abundances of other organisms. Although many ecosystems contain several engineering species, it is still unclear how the coexistence of multiple engineers affects the physical habitat and the structure of the community on a landscape scale. Here, we investigated through a large-scale field manipulation how three coexisting engineers on intertidal flats (cockles Cerastoderma edule; lugworms Arenicola marina; blue mussels Mytilus edulis) influence the functional composition of the local macrobenthic community and what the consequences are at the landscape level. By using biological trait analysis (BTA), we show that on the local scale biogenic changes in sediment accumulation and organic matter content translated into specific shifts in the distribution of functional traits within the community. At a landscape scale, the co-occurrence of multiple ecosystem engineers resulted in the spatial separation of different functional groups, i.e. different functional groups dominated unique complementary habitats. Our results emphasize the role of co-occurring multiple engineers in shaping natural communities, thus contributing to a better knowledge of community assembly rules. Th is understanding can profitably be used to improve ecosystem-based management and conservation actions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1502-1510
Number of pages9
Issue number11
Early online date26-Feb-2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2015

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