Does wave exposure determine the interactive effects of losing key grazers and ecosystem engineers?

Robert J. Mrowicki, Christine A. Maggs, Nessa E. O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The consequences of biodiversity loss in the face of environmental change remain difficult to predict, given the complexity of interactions among species and the context-dependency of their functional roles within ecosystems. Predictions may be enhanced by studies testing how the interactive effects of species loss from different functional groups vary with important environmental drivers. On rocky shores, limpets and barnacles are recognised as key grazers and ecosystem engineers, respectively. Despite the large body of research examining the combined effects of limpet and barnacle removal, it is unclear how their relative importance varies according to wave exposure, which is a dominant force structuring intertidal communities. We tested the responses of algal communities to the removal of limpets and barnacles on three sheltered and three wave-exposed rocky shores on the north coast of Ireland. Limpet removal resulted in a relative increase in microalgal biomass on a single sheltered shore only, but led to the enhanced accumulation of ephemeral macroalgae on two sheltered shores and one exposed shore. On average, independently of wave exposure or shore, ephemeral macroalgae increased in response to limpet removal, but only when barnacles were removed. On two sheltered shores and one exposed shore, however, barnacles facilitated the establishment of fucoid macroalgae following limpet removal. Therefore, at the scale of this study, variability among individual shores was more important than wave exposure per se in determining the effect of limpet removal and its interaction with that of barnacles. Overall, these findings demonstrate that the interactive effects of losing key species from different functional groups may not vary predictably according to dominant environmental factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-424
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Early online date07 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


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