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Rossi, F., Gribsholt, B., Gazeau, F., Di Santo, V., & Middelburg, J. J. (2013). Complex Effects of Ecosystem Engineer Loss on Benthic Ecosystem Response to Detrital Macroalgae. PLoS One, 8(6).
Résumé: Ecosystem engineers change abiotic conditions, community assembly and ecosystem functioning. Consequently, their loss may modify thresholds of ecosystem response to disturbance and undermine ecosystem stability. This study investigates how loss of the bioturbating lugworm Arenicola marina modifies the response to macroalgal detrital enrichment of sediment biogeochemical properties, microphytobenthos and macrofauna assemblages. A field manipulative experiment was done on an intertidal sandflat (Oosterschelde estuary, The Netherlands). Lugworms were deliberately excluded from 1x m sediment plots and different amounts of detrital Ulva (0, 200 or 600 g Wet Weight) were added twice. Sediment biogeochemistry changes were evaluated through benthic respiration, sediment organic carbon content and porewater inorganic carbon as well as detrital macroalgae remaining in the sediment one month after enrichment. Microalgal biomass and macrofauna composition were measured at the same time. Macroalgal carbon mineralization and transfer to the benthic consumers were also investigated during decomposition at low enrichment level (200 g WW). The interaction between lugworm exclusion and detrital enrichment did not modify sediment organic carbon or benthic respiration. Weak but significant changes were instead found for porewater inorganic carbon and microalgal biomass. Lugworm exclusion caused an increase of porewater carbon and a decrease of microalgal biomass, while detrital enrichment drove these values back to values typical of lugworm-dominated sediments. Lugworm exclusion also decreased the amount of macroalgae remaining into the sediment and accelerated detrital carbon mineralization and CO2 release to the water column. Eventually, the interaction between lugworm exclusion and detrital enrichment affected macrofauna abundance and diversity, which collapsed at high level of enrichment only when the lugworms were present. This study reveals that in nature the role of this ecosystem engineer may be variable and sometimes have no or even negative effects on stability, conversely to what it should be expected based on current research knowledge.