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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2012

Spatially Extended Habitat Modification by Intertidal Reef-Building Bivalves has Implications for Consumer-Resource Interactions

van der Zee, Els M.; van der Heide, Tjisse; Donadi, Serena; Eklof, Johan S.; Eriksson, Britas Klemens; Olff, Han; van der Veer, Henk W.; Piersma, Theunis


Ecosystem engineers can strongly modify habitat structure and resource availability across space. In theory, this should alter the spatial distributions of trophically interacting species. In this article, we empirically investigated the importance of spatially extended habitat modification by reef-building bivalves in explaining the distribution of four avian predators and their benthic prey in the Wadden Sea-one of the world's largest intertidal soft-sediment ecosystems. We applied Structural Equation Modeling to identify important direct and indirect interactions between the different components of the system. We found strong spatial gradients in sediment properties into the surrounding area of mixed blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) and Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) reefs, indicating large-scale (100s of m) engineering effects. The benthic community was significantly affected by these gradients, with the abundance of several important invertebrate prey species increasing with sediment organic matter and decreasing with distance to the reefs. Distance from the reef, sediment properties, and benthic food abundance simultaneously explained significant parts of the distribution of oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), Eurasian curlews (Numenius arquata), and bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica). The distribution of black-headed gulls (Chroicoceph ridibundus)-a versatile species with many diet options-appeared unaffected by the reefs. These results suggest that intertidal reef builders can affect consumer-resource dynamics far beyond their own boundaries, emphasizing their importance in intertidal soft-bottom ecosystems like the Wadden Sea.


ecosystem engineer; Mytilus edulis; Crassostrea gigas; habitat modification; extended effects; spatial species distribution; benthic community; shorebirds

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2012, Volume: 15, number: 4, pages: 664-673

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