Density-dependent facilitation cascades determine epifaunal community structure in temperate Australian mangroves

Publisher:
Ecological Society of America
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Ecology, 2012, 93 (6), pp. 1388 - 1401
Issue Date:
2012-01
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Co-occurring foundation species can determine biological community structure via facilitation cascades. We examined the density dependencies of facilitation cascades, including how the density of a basal foundation species influences the density of secondary foundation species, and how the density of secondary foundation species influences community structure. The system in which we assessed density dependencies was a temperate mangrove forest in which pneumatophores trap the fucoid alga Hormosira banksii and provide substrate for the oyster, Saccostrea glomerata. The alga and oyster in turn determine benthic community structure. In the field, algal biomass was positively correlated with pneumatophore density. Oysters, by contrast, were highly over-dispersed and correlated with the presence/ absence of pneumatophores. Epifaunal abundance and species richness were positively correlated with algal and oyster abundance, but their effects were independent. The positive effect of pneumatophore density on epifauna was primarily an indirect effect of trapping more algae. Pneumatophores did not directly influence invertebrate communities. Experiments revealed that, at very low pneumatophore densities, algal retention was insufficient to facilitate epifauna above that found on pneumatophores alone. At higher densities, however, increasing the density of pneumatophores increased algal retention, and the density and diversity of associated invertebrates. Shading by the mangrove canopy reduced algal biomass but did not modify the density-dependent nature of the cascade. Our results extend facilitation theory by showing that the density of both basal and secondary foundation species can be critical in triggering facilitation cascades. Our study also reveals that, where foundation species cooccur, multiple, independent cascades may arise from a single basal facilitator.
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