Consumer control of the establishment of marsh foundation plants in intertidal mudflats
© 2016 Inter-Research. The establishment of foundation plants in bare mudflats is a critical process. While consumers are increasingly recognized to exert strong top-down control of plant performance in salt marshes, studies to date have focused on the effects of consumers on mature stands rather than on plants that are recolonizing after disturbance or where restoration has occurred. Furthermore, whether consumer-facilitated fungal infection differentially affects newly establishing plants in mudflats compared to mature stands remains poorly understood. In a salt marsh in southern Brazil, we examined the effects of herbivory by the crab Neohelice granulata and fungal infection on the survival and growth of Spartina alterniflora transplanted into mudflats. We additionally tested the effects of herbivory and fungi on newly established versus well-established stands of S. alterniflora. Highly intensive natural crab herbivory significantly reduced the development of S. alterniflora and increased its fungal infection by 50%. Light herbivory, removing only small areas of plant leaves, reduced the height growth and leaf production of directly affected tillers by about 14 to 18%, and both newly and well-established, clonally integrated stands of S. alterniflora allocated energy towards the formation of new tillers. While herbivory facilitated fungal infection and subsequent fungal damage in leaves, no significant effects of fungicide treatment or its interactions with crab grazing on S. alterniflora growth were detected, suggesting a saprophytic rather than a pathogenic role of fungi in this 3-species interaction. Here, we found that marsh grasses transplanted for restoration or those colonizing disturbance-generated mudflats may be facilitated by protection against consumers.
Freitas, RF; Schrack, EC; He, Q; Silliman, BR; Furlong, EB; Telles, AC; Costa, CSB
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