Consumer regulation of the carbon cycle in coastal wetland ecosystems.
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, CO2
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. This article is part of the theme issue 'Integrative research perspectives on marine conservation'.
He, Q; Li, H; Xu, C; Sun, Q; Bertness, MD; Fang, C; Li, B; Silliman, BR
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