Whole-community facilitation regulates biodiversity on Patagonian rocky shores.
Understanding the factors that generate and maintain biodiversity is a central goal in ecology. While positive species interactions (i.e., facilitation) have historically been underemphasized in ecological research, they are increasingly recognized as playing important roles in the evolution and maintenance of biodiversity. Dominant habitat-forming species (foundation species) buffer environmental conditions and can therefore facilitate myriad associated species. Theory predicts that facilitation will be the dominant community-structuring force under harsh environmental conditions, where organisms depend on shelter for survival and predation is diminished. Wind-swept, arid Patagonian rocky shores are one of the most desiccating intertidal rocky shores ever studied, providing an opportunity to test this theory and elucidate the context-dependency of facilitation.
Surveys across 2100 km of southern Argentinean coastline and experimental manipulations both supported theoretical predictions, with 43 out of 46 species in the animal assemblage obligated to living within the matrices of mussels for protection from potentially lethal desiccation stress and predators having no detectable impact on diversity.
These results provide the first experimental support of long-standing theoretical predictions and reveal that in extreme climates, maintenance of whole-community diversity can be maintained by positive interactions that ameliorate physical stress. These findings have important conservation implications and emphasize that preserving foundation species should be a priority in remediating the biodiversity consequences of global climate change.
Silliman, BR; Bertness, MD; Altieri, AH; Griffin, JN; Bazterrica, MC; Hidalgo, FJ; Crain, CM; Reyna, MV
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