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  1. Abstract As efforts to restore coastal habitats accelerate, it is critical that investments are targeted to most effectively mitigate and reverse habitat loss and its impacts on biodiversity. One likely but largely overlooked impediment to effective restoration of habitat-forming organisms is failing to explicitly consider non-habitat-forming animals in restoration planning, implementation, and monitoring. These animals can greatly enhance or degrade ecosystem function, persistence, and resilience. Bivalves, for instance, can reduce sulfide stress in seagrass habitats and increase drought tolerance of saltmarsh vegetation, whereas megaherbivores can detrimentally overgraze seagrass or improve seagrass seed germination, depending on the context. Therefore, understanding when, why, and how to directly manipulate or support animals can enhance coastal restoration outcomes. In support of this expanded restoration approach, we provide a conceptual framework, incorporating lessons from structured decision-making, and describe potential actions that could lead to better restoration outcomes using case studies to illustrate practical approaches.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 12, 2023
  2. BACKGROUND Evaluating effects of global warming from rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) concentrations requires resolving the processes that drive Earth’s carbon stocks and flows. Although biogeomorphic wetlands (peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass meadows) cover only 1% of Earth’s surface, they store 20% of the global organic ecosystem carbon. This disproportionate share is fueled by high carbon sequestration rates per unit area and effective storage capacity, which greatly exceed those of oceanic and forest ecosystems. We highlight that feedbacks between geomorphology and landscape-building wetland vegetation underlie these critical qualities and that disruption of these biogeomorphic feedbacks can switch these systems from carbon sinks into sources. ADVANCES A key advancement in understanding wetland functioning has been the recognition of the role of reciprocal organism-landform interactions, “biogeomorphic feedbacks.” Biogeomorphic feedbacks entail self-reinforcing interactions between biota and geomorphology, by which organisms—often vegetation—engineer landforms to their own benefit following a positive density-dependent relationship. Vegetation that dominates major carbon-storing wetlands generate self-facilitating feedbacks that shape the landscape and amplify carbon sequestration and storage. As a result, per unit area, wetland carbon stocks and sequestration rates greatly exceed those of terrestrial forests and oceans, ecosystems that worldwide harbor large stocks because of their largemore »areal extent. Worldwide biogeomorphic wetlands experience human-induced average annual loss rates of around 1%. We estimate that associated carbon losses amount to 0.5 Pg C per year, levels that are equivalent to 5% of the estimated overall anthropogenic carbon emissions. Because carbon emissions from degraded wetlands are often sustained for centuries until all organic matter has been decomposed, conserving and restoring biogeomorphic wetlands must be part of global climate solutions. OUTLOOK Our work highlights that biogeomorphic wetlands serve as the world’s biotic carbon hotspots, and that conservation and restoration of these hotspots offer an attractive contribution to mitigate global warming. Recent scientific findings show that restoration methods aimed at reestablishing biogeomorphic feedbacks can greatly increase establishment success and restoration yields, paving the way for large-scale restoration actions. Therefore, we argue that implementing such measures can facilitate humanity in its pursuit of targets set by the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Carbon storage in biogeomorphic wetlands. Organic carbon ( A ) stocks, ( B ) densities, and ( C ) sequestration rates in the world’s major carbon-storing ecosystems. Oceans hold the largest stock, peatlands (boreal, temperate, and tropical aggregated) store the largest amount per unit area, and coastal ecosystems (mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses aggregated) support the highest sequestration rates. ( D and E ) Biogeomorphic feedbacks, indicated with arrows, can be classified as productivity stimulating or decomposition limiting. Productivity-stimulating feedbacks increase resource availability and thus stimulate vegetation growth and organic matter production. Although production is lower in wetlands with decomposition-limiting feedbacks, decomposition is more strongly limited, resulting in net accumulation of organic matter. (D) In fens, organic matter accumulation from vascular plants is amplified by productivity-stimulating feedbacks. Once the peat rises above the groundwater and is large enough to remain waterlogged by retaining rainwater, the resulting bog maintains being waterlogged and acidic, resulting in strong decomposition-limiting feedbacks. (E) Vegetated coastal ecosystems generate productivity-stimulating feedbacks that enhance local production and trapping of external organic matter.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 6, 2023
  3. 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.
  4. Abstract

    As coral populations decline across the Caribbean, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the forces that inhibit coral survivorship and recovery. Predation by corallivores, such as the short coral snailCoralliophila abbreviata, are one such threat to coral health and recovery worldwide, but current understanding of the factors controlling corallivore populations, and therefore predation pressure on corals, remains limited. To examine the extent to which bottom-up forces (i.e., coral prey), top-down forces (i.e., predators), and marine protection relate toC. abbreviatadistributions, we surveyedC. abbreviataabundance, percent coral cover, and the abundance of potential snail predators across six protected and six unprotected reefs in the Florida Keys. We found thatC. abbreviataabundance was lower in protected areas where predator assemblages were also more diverse, and that across all sites snail abundance generally increased with coral cover.C. abbreviataabundance had strong, negative relationships with two gastropod predators—the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and the grunt black margate (Anisotremus surinamensis), which may be exerting top-down pressure onC. abbreviatapopulations. Further, we found the size ofC. abbreviatawas also related to reef protection status, with largerC. abbreviataon average in protected areas, suggesting that gape-limited predators such asP. argusandA. surinamensismay alter size distributions by targeting small snails. Combined, these resultsmore »provide preliminary evidence that marine protection in the Florida Keys may preserve critical trophic interactions that indirectly promote coral success via control of local populations of the common corallivorous snailC. abbreviata.

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  5. Despite escalating anthropogenic alteration of food webs, how the carbon cycle in ecosystems is regulated by food web processes remains poorly understood. We quantitatively synthesize the effects of consumers (herbivores, omnivores and carnivores) on the carbon cycle of coastal wetland ecosystems, ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems that store the greatest amount of carbon per unit area among all ecosystems. Our results reveal that consumers strongly affect many processes of the carbon cycle. Herbivores, for example, generally reduce carbon absorption and carbon stocks (e.g. aboveground plant carbon by 53% and aboveground net primary production by 23%) but may promote some carbon emission processes (e.g. litter decomposition by 32%). The average strengths of these effects are comparable with, or even times higher than, changes driven by temperature, precipitation, nitrogen input, CO 2 concentration, and plant invasions. Furthermore, consumer effects appear to be stronger on aboveground than belowground carbon processes and vary markedly with trophic level, body size, thermal regulation strategy and feeding type. Despite important knowledge gaps, our results highlight the powerful impacts of consumers on the carbon cycle and call for the incorporation of consumer control into Earth system models that predict anthropogenic climate change and into management strategies of Earth's carbon stocks.more »This article is part of the theme issue ‘Integrative research perspectives on marine conservation’.« less