MEPS 204:27-38 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps204027

Marine microbenthic community structure regulated by nitrogen loading and grazing pressure

Helmut Hillebrand*, Boris Worm, Heike K. Lotze

Institut für Meereskunde, Abteilung Meeresbotanik, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany
*Present address: Erken Laboratory, University of Uppsala, Norr Malma 4200, 76173 Norrtälje, Sweden. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Generalisations on the combined effects of consumers and resources on autotrophs in aquatic food webs largely rely on freshwater studies. In this study, we tested these general concepts with marine benthic microalgae, which are important components of coastal food webs. We manipulated nitrogen availability and herbivore presence in a factorial field experiment in the Western Baltic Sea. Moreover, we investigated how herbivore control varied among 3 sites and 2 seasons and tested for trophic cascades by enhancing demersal fish density at 2 sites. Nitrogen availability and herbivore presence had strong and antagonistic effects on microalgal biomass, species composition and diversity. Herbivores significantly reduced algal biomass, whereas nutrient enrichment led to an increase in biomass. Herbivore effects on microalgal biomass increased with increasing nitrogen availability, indicating a functional response of herbivores to nutrient enrichment. The response of microalgae at the species level suggested a trade-off between nutrient use and grazing resistance which appeared to be linked to algal growth form. Compared to other growth forms, large erect species were most responsive to both nitrogen loading and herbivory. Grazing reduced microalgal diversity at low nutrient supply, but enhanced it at high nutrient supply. Herbivore effects varied considerably among different sites and were stronger in spring than in summer. Manipulations of fish density during summer did not have any effects on microalgal community structure. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that herbivores and nutrients have strong and balancing effects on marine microbenthic community structure.


KEY WORDS: Periphyton · Herbivory · Species composition · Nutrients · Diversity


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