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Foundational biodiversity effects propagate through coastal food webs via multiple pathways
  • Aaron Ramus,
  • Jon Lefcheck,
  • Zachary Long
Aaron Ramus
University of North Carolina Wilmington

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Jon Lefcheck
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
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Zachary Long
University of North Carolina Wilmington
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Relatively few studies have attempted to resolve the pathways through which biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning cascade from one trophic level to another. Here, we manipulated the richness of habitat-forming seaweeds in a western Atlantic estuary to explore how changes in foundation species diversity affect the structure and functioning of the benthic consumer communities that they support. Structural equation modeling revealed that macroalgal richness enhanced invertebrate abundance, biomass, and diversity, both directly by changing the quality and palatability of the foundational substrate, and indirectly by increasing the total biomass of available habitat. Consumer responses were largely driven by a single foundational seaweed, although stronger complementarity among macroalgae was observed for invertebrate richness. These findings reconcile earlier inferences from terrestrial grasslands by demonstrating that foundational biodiversity effects can simultaneously propagate through multiple pathways to maintain animal foodwebs. Our work also highlights the potential ramifications of human-induced changes in marine ecosystems.