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  1. Abstract Invasive consumers can cause extensive ecological damage to native communities but effects on ecosystem resilience are less understood. Here, we use drone surveys, manipulative experiments, and mathematical models to show how feral hogs reduce resilience in southeastern US salt marshes by dismantling an essential marsh cordgrass-ribbed mussel mutualism. Mussels usually double plant growth and enhance marsh resilience to extreme drought but, when hogs invade, switch from being essential for plant survival to a liability; hogs selectively forage in mussel-rich areas leading to a 50% reduction in plant biomass and slower post-drought recovery rate. Hogs increase habitat fragmentation across landscapes by maintaining large, disturbed areas through trampling of cordgrass during targeted mussel consumption. Experiments and climate-disturbance recovery models show trampling alone slows marsh recovery by 3x while focused mussel predation creates marshes that may never recover from large-scale disturbances without hog eradication. Our work highlights that an invasive consumer can reshape ecosystems not just via competition and predation, but by disrupting key, positive species interactions that underlie resilience to climatic disturbances. 
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  2. Abstract

    Disturbances are increasing in size and frequency with climate change, facilitating species that opportunistically exploit areas where habitat‐forming foundation species have been removed. Although it is well‐recognized that consumers, disease and weedy space‐holders can affect foundation species’ resistance to and recovery from disturbance, how predators influence their resilience is less clear.

    In salt marshareas de‐vegetated by drought and intensive snailLittoraria irroratagrazing (hereafter, ‘die‐offs’), we monitored bird use and experimentally manipulated bird and nekton access to the vegetated borders of die‐off mudflats across periods of both vegetation die‐off and regrowth to explore how these predators mediate the resilience of cordgrassSpartina alterniflora, the foundation species that structures US Atlantic coast salt marshes.

    Surveys revealed that birds, especially probers that agitate soils, forage year‐round for invertebrates in die‐off mudflats in our study area but not in adjacent vegetated areas.

    During periods of die‐off, cordgrass borders accessible to bird and nekton predators retreated >3‐times slower and snail densities were halved, relative to predator exclusion cages. In predator‐accessible plots, slower border retreat corresponded to greater snail infection by a bird host‐dependent trematode parasite. During recovery, cordgrass borders revegetated more quickly, and snail densities declined faster over time in unmanipulated controls relative to predator exclusions.

    Synthesis. These findings suggest that birds, through their transmission of parasites to snails, appear to act synergistically with snail‐consuming nekton to slow cordgrass loss after drought‐snail disturbances. Predator access also corresponds to faster cordgrass recovery as environmental conditions improve, although the mechanisms behind this need further investigation. Thus, predators that opportunistically forage within disturbances have the potential to suppress consumer impacts through multiple mechanisms, including consumption and disease transmission, thereby bolstering foundation species’ resilience and modulating whole ecosystem responses to climate change.

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