Selective top-down control of epiphytic biomass by amphipods from Posidonia oceanica meadows: implications for ecosystem functioning

Loïc N. Michel, Patrick Dauby, Alessandra Dupont, Sylvie Gobert

Abstract


Mediterranean Posidonia oceanica meadows shelter an important biomass and biodiversity of amphipod crustaceans that graze on epiphytes. However, their actual significance for ecosystem functional processes is hard to estimate, due to the lack of adequate data. Here, a field microcosm-based inclusion experiment was used to test if three of the dominant taxa of the amphipod community (Apherusa chiereghinii, Dexamine spiniventris and Gammarus spp.) could exert top-down control on seagrass leaf epiphytes. Influence of amphipod activity on nutrient availability for the host species was also investigated. All grazer taxa significantly reduced biomasses of erect macroalgae and erect sessile animals present on leaves. None of them consumed encrusting epiflora or epifauna. This selective top-down control could have important implications for the structure of the epiphytic community on leaves of P. oceanica, which is one of the most diverse and abundant of all seagrass species. Grazing activity of all taxa caused higher N content of seagrass leaves, likely through amphipod excretion and/or sloppy feeding. Since P. oceanica meadows often grow in oligotrophic zones where plant growth can be nutrient-limited, this N enrichment could enhance seagrass production. Overall, the ecological interaction between P. oceanica and amphipods could be seen as a facultative mutualistic relationship. Our results suggest that amphipod mesograzers are key-elements in some of the functional processes regulating these complex and yet endangered ecosystems, which are essential components of Mediterranean coastal zones.

Keywords


epiphyte grazing; mesograzers; Amphipoda; nutrient cycling; Posidonia oceanica

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References


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.26496/bjz.2015.49

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The Royal Belgian Society of Zoology acknowledges the Universitarian Foundation of Belgium and the National Fund of Scientific Research for their financial support in publishing the Belgian Journal of Zoology.