Species effects on ecosystem processes are modified by faunal responses to habitat composition

Mark T. Bulling, Martin Solan, Kirstie E. Dyson, Gema Hernandez-Milian, Patricia Luque, Graham J. Pierce, Dave Raffaelli, David M. Paterson, Piran C. L. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

51 Citations (Scopus)


Heterogeneity is a well-recognized feature of natural environments, and the spatial distribution and movement of individual species is primarily driven by resource requirements. In laboratory experiments designed to explore how different species drive ecosystem processes, such as nutrient release, habitat heterogeneity is often seen as something which must be rigorously controlled for. Most small experimental systems are therefore spatially homogeneous, and the link between environmental heterogeneity and its effects on the redistribution of individuals and species, and on ecosystem processes, has not been fully explored. In this paper, we used a mesocosm system to investigate the relationship between habitat composition, species movement and sediment nutrient release for each of four functionally contrasting species of marine benthic invertebrate macrofauna. For each species, various habitat configurations were generated by selectively enriching patches of sediment with macroalgae, a natural source of spatial variability in intertidal mudflats. We found that the direction and extent of faunal movement between patches differs with species identity, density and habitat composition. Combinations of these factors lead to concomitant changes in nutrient release, such that habitat composition effects are modified by species identity (in the case of NH4-N) and by species density (in the case of PO4-P). It is clear that failure to accommodate natural patterns of spatial heterogeneity in such studies may result in an incomplete understanding of system behaviour. This will be particularly important for future experiments designed to explore the effects of species richness on ecosystem processes, where the complex interactions reported here for single species may be compounded when species are brought together in multi-species combinations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-520
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Early online date3 Oct 2008
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


  • ecosystem function
  • species identity
  • biodiversity
  • habitat heterogeneity
  • patch dynamics
  • drifting algal mats
  • Benthic macrofauna
  • marine-sediments
  • macroalgal mats
  • diversity
  • communities
  • invertebrates
  • heterogeneity
  • productivity


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