skip to main content

Title: Habitat decoupling via saltmarsh creek geomorphology alters connection between spatially- coupled food webs
Consumer-mediated movement can couple food webs in distinct habitats and facilitate energy flow between them. In New England saltmarshes, mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus) connect the vegetated marsh and creek food webs by opportunistically foraging on the invertebrate communities of the marsh surface when access is permitted by tidal flooding and marsh-edge geomorphology. Via their movements, mummichog represent a critical food web node, as they can potentially transport energy from the marsh surface food web to creek food web and exert top-down control on the communities of the vegetated marsh surface. Here, I use gut content analysis, calorimetric analysis, and field surveys to demonstrate that access to the marsh surface (afforded by marsh-edge geomorphology) impacts the trophic relay of marsh production to creek food webs. Fish populations in creeks with greater connectivity had a higher total biomass of terrestrial invertebrates in their guts. However, bomb calorimetry showed no difference in the average caloric content of mummichog individuals from creeks with different creek edge geomorphology. Access also did not impact mummichog distribution across the marsh platform and exhibited no evidence of top-down control on their invertebrate prey. Thus, mummichogs function as initial nodes in the trophic relay, unidirectionally moving energy from the vegetated more » marsh to the creek food web. Reduced marsh surface access via altered marsh-edge geomorphology results in a 50 % to 66 % reduction in total energy available to aquatic predators via this route. Estuarine systems are intimately connected to coastal and offshore systems via consumer mediated flows of energy; thus, disruptions to the trophic relay from the marsh surface at the tidal creek scale can have far reaching impacts on secondary productivity in multiple disparate systems and must be accounted for in considerations of impacts to future food-web function. « less
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Food webs
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Climate change is altering naturally fluctuating environmental conditions in coastal and estuarine ecosystems across the globe. Departures from long-term averages and ranges of environmental variables are increasingly being observed as directional changes [e.g., rising sea levels, sea surface temperatures (SST)] and less predictable periodic cycles (e.g., Atlantic or Pacific decadal oscillations) and extremes (e.g., coastal flooding, marine heatwaves). Quantifying the short- and long-term impacts of climate change on tidal marsh seascape structure and function for nekton is a critical step toward fisheries conservation and management. The multiple stressor framework provides a promising approach for advancing integrative, cross-disciplinary research onmore »tidal marshes and food web dynamics. It can be used to quantify climate change effects on and interactions between coastal oceans (e.g., SST, ocean currents, waves) and watersheds (e.g., precipitation, river flows), tidal marsh geomorphology (e.g., vegetation structure, elevation capital, sedimentation), and estuarine and coastal nekton (e.g., species distributions, life history adaptations, predator-prey dynamics). However, disentangling the cumulative impacts of multiple interacting stressors on tidal marshes, whether the effects are additive, synergistic, or antagonistic, and the time scales at which they occur, poses a significant research challenge. This perspective highlights the key physical and ecological processes affecting tidal marshes, with an emphasis on the trophic linkages between marsh production and estuarine and coastal nekton, recommended for consideration in future climate change studies. Such studies are urgently needed to understand climate change effects on tidal marshes now and into the future.« less
  2. Coastal salt marshes are distributed widely across the globe and are considered essential habitat for many fish and crustacean species. Yet, the literature on fishery support by salt marshes has largely been based on a few geographically distinct model systems, and as a result, inadequately captures the hierarchical nature of salt marsh pattern, process, and variation across space and time. A better understanding of geographic variation and drivers of commonalities and differences across salt marsh systems is essential to informing future management practices. Here, we address the key drivers of geographic variation in salt marshes: hydroperiod, seascape configuration, geomorphology, climaticmore »region, sediment supply and riverine input, salinity, vegetation composition, and human activities. Future efforts to manage, conserve, and restore these habitats will require consideration of how environmental drivers within marshes affect the overall structure and subsequent function for fisheries species. We propose a future research agenda that provides both the consistent collection and reporting of sources of variation in small-scale studies and collaborative networks running parallel studies across large scales and geographically distinct locations to provide analogous information for data poor locations. These comparisons are needed to identify and prioritize restoration or conservation efforts, identify sources of variation among regions, and best manage fisheries and food resources across the globe. Introduction Understanding the drivers of geographic variation in the condition and composition of habitats is crucial to our capacity to generalize management plans across space and time and to clarify and perhaps challenge assumptions of functional equivalence among sites. Broadly defined wetland types such as salt marshes are often assumed to provide similar functions throughout their global range, such as providing nursery habitat for fishery species. However, a growing body of evidence suggests substantial geographic variation in the functioning of salt marsh and other coastal ecosystems (Bradley et al. 2020; Whalen et al. 2020). Variation in ecological patterns and processes within habitat types can alter community structure and dynamics. Local-scale patterns and processes (e.g., patch [10s of meters], local [100s of meters]) can be influenced by processes that occur at larger spatial scales (e.g., regional [kms], global), thereby causing geographic differences in the function and ecosystem service delivery of a given habitat type. Salt marshes (which include vegetated platform, interconnected tidal creeks, fringing mudflats, ponds, and pools) are widely distributed (Fig. 1) and function as valuable nursery habitats by providing key resources for many estuarine species that transition to marine or aquatic habitats as adults (Beck et al. 2001; Minello et al. 2003; Sheaves et al. 2015). However, factors that underlie variability in the delivery of ecological functions are still inadequately understood. Previous studies have explored geographic variation in the function of salt marshes for fish and mobile crustaceans (“nekton”; e.g., Minello et al. 2012, Baker et al. 2013). However, field studies that compare multiple sites across a geographical gradient are typically limited in duration and scale. In addition, the explanatory variables (e.g., elevation, flooding duration, plant structure) collected by smaller scale studies are often inconsistent and therefore limit generalizations across sites.« less
  3. Facilitation cascades are chains of positive interactions that occur as frequently as trophic cascades, and are equally important drivers of ecosystem function where they involve the overlap of primary and secondary, or dependent, habitat-forming foundation species [cite]. Although it is well-recognized that the size and configuration of secondary foundation species’ patches are critical features modulating the ecological effects of facilitation cascades, the mechanisms governing their spatial distribution are often challenging to discern given that they operate across multiple spatial and temporal scales [cite]. We therefore combined regional surveys of southeastern US salt marsh geomorphology and invertebrate communities with a predatormore »exclusion experiment to elucidate the drivers, both geomorphic and biotic, controlling the establishment, persistence, and ecosystem functioning impacts of a regionally-abundant facilitation cascade involving habitat-forming marsh cordgrass and aggregations of ribbed mussels. We discovered a hierarchy of physical and biological factors predictably controlling the strength and self-organization of this facilitation cascade across creekshed, landscape, and patch scales. These results significantly enhance our capacity to spatially predict coastal ecosystem function across scales based on easily identifiable metrics of geomorphology that are mechanistically linked to ecological processes [cite]. Replication of this approach across vegetated coastal ecosystems has the potential to support management efforts by elucidating the multi-scale linkages between geomorphology and ecology that, in turn, define spatially-explicit patterns in community assembly and ecosystem functioning.« less
  4. Abstract Analyses of ancient food webs reveal important paleoecological processes and responses to a range of perturbations throughout Earth's history, such as climate change. These responses can inform our forecasts of future biotic responses to similar perturbations. However, previous analyses of ancient food webs rarely accounted for key differences between modern and ancient community data, particularly selective loss of soft-bodied taxa during fossilization. To consider how fossilization impacts inferences of ancient community structure, we (1) analyzed node-level attributes to identify correlations between ecological roles and fossilization potential and (2) applied selective information loss procedures to food web data for extantmore »systems. We found that selective loss of soft-bodied organisms has predictable effects on the trophic structure of “artificially fossilized” food webs because these organisms occupy unique, consistent food web positions. Fossilized food webs misleadingly appear less stable (i.e., more prone to trophic cascades), with less predation and an overrepresentation of generalist consumers. We also found that ecological differences between soft- and hard-bodied taxa—indicated by distinct positions in modern food webs—are recorded in an early Eocene web, but not in Cambrian webs. This suggests that ecological differences between the groups have existed for ≥48 Myr. Our results indicate that accounting for soft-bodied taxa is vital for accurate depictions of ancient food webs. However, the consistency of information loss trends across the analyzed food webs means it is possible to predict how the selective loss of soft-bodied taxa affects food web metrics, which can permit better modeling of ancient communities.« less
  5. Winemiller, KO. (Ed.)
    The widespread importance of variable types of primary production, or energy channels, to consumer communities has become increasingly apparent. However, the mechanisms underlying this “multichannel” feeding remain poorly understood, especially for aquatic ecosystems that pose unique logistical constraints given the diversity of potential energy channels. Here, we use bulk tissue isotopic analysis along with carbon isotope (δ13C) analysis of individual amino acids to characterize the relative contribution of pelagic and benthic energy sources to a kelp forest consumer community in northern Chile. We measured bulk tissue δ13C and δ15N for >120 samples; of these we analyzed δ13C values of sixmore »essential amino acids (EAA) from nine primary producer groups (n = 41) and 11 representative nearshore consumer taxa (n = 56). Using EAA δ13C data, we employed linear discriminant analysis (LDA) to assess how distinct EAA δ13C values were between local pelagic (phytoplankton/particulate organic matter), and benthic (kelps, red algae, and green algae) endmembers. With this model, we were able to correctly classify nearly 90% of producer samples to their original groupings, a significant improvement on traditional bulk isotopic analysis. With this EAA isotopic library, we then generated probability distributions for the most important sources of production for each individual consumer and species using a bootstrap‐resampling LDA approach. We found evidence for multichannel feeding within the community at the species level. Invertebrates tended to focus on either pelagic or benthic energy, deriving 13–67% of their EAA from pelagic sources. In contrast, mobile (fish) taxa at higher trophic levels used more equal proportions of each channel, ranging from 19% to 47% pelagically derived energy. Within a taxon, multichannel feeding was a result of specialization among individuals in energy channel usage, with 37 of 56 individual consumers estimated to derive >80% of their EAA from a single channel. Our study reveals how a cutting‐edge isotopic technique can characterize the dynamics of energy flow in coastal food webs, a topic that has historically been difficult to address. More broadly, our work provides a mechanism as to how multichannel feeding may occur in nearshore communities, and we suggest this pattern be investigated in additional ecosystems.« less