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Habitat-Mediated Facilitation and Counteracting Ecosystem Engineering Interactively Influence Ecosystem Responses to Disturbance
Eklöf, J.S.; van der Heide, T.; Donadi, S.; van der Zee, E.M.; O'Hara, R.; Eriksson, B.K. (2011). Habitat-Mediated Facilitation and Counteracting Ecosystem Engineering Interactively Influence Ecosystem Responses to Disturbance. PLoS One 6(8): e23229. dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0023229
In: PLoS One. Public Library of Science: San Francisco. ISSN 1932-6203, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Eklöf, J.S.
  • van der Heide, T.
  • Donadi, S.
  • van der Zee, E.M., more
  • O'Hara, R.
  • Eriksson, B.K.

Abstract
    Recovery of an ecosystem following disturbance can be severely hampered or even shift altogether when a point disturbance exceeds a certain spatial threshold. Such scale-dependent dynamics may be caused by preemptive competition, but may also result from diminished self-facilitation due to weakened ecosystem engineering. Moreover, disturbance can facilitate colonization by engineering species that alter abiotic conditions in ways that exacerbate stress on the original species. Consequently, establishment of such counteracting engineers might reduce the spatial threshold for the disturbance, by effectively slowing recovery and increasing the risk for ecosystem shifts to alternative states. We tested these predictions in an intertidal mudflat characterized by a two-state mosaic of hummocks (humps exposed during low tide) dominated by the sediment-stabilizing seagrass Zostera noltii) and hollows (low-tide waterlogged depressions dominated by the bioturbating lugworm Arenicola marina). In contrast to expectations, seagrass recolonized both natural and experimental clearings via lateral expansion and seemed unaffected by both clearing size and lugworm addition. Near the end of the growth season, however, an additional disturbance (most likely waterfowl grazing and/or strong hydrodynamics) selectively impacted recolonizing seagrass in the largest (1 m(2)) clearings (regardless of lugworm addition), and in those medium (0.25 m(2)) clearings where lugworms had been added nearly five months earlier. Further analyses showed that the risk for the disturbance increased with hollow size, with a threshold of 0.24 m(2). Hollows of that size were caused by seagrass removal alone in the largest clearings, and by a weaker seagrass removal effect exacerbated by lugworm bioturbation in the medium clearings. Consequently, a sufficiently large disturbance increased the vulnerability of recolonizing seagrass to additional disturbance by weakening seagrass engineering effects (sediment stabilization). Meanwhile, the counteracting ecosystem engineering (lugworm bioturbation) reduced that threshold size. Therefore, scale-dependent interactions between habitat-mediated facilitation, competition and disturbance seem to maintain the spatial two-state mosaic in this ecosystem.

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