MEPS 224:55-67 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps224055

Plant species diversity and composition: experimental effects on marine epifaunal assemblages

John D. Parker*, J. Emmett Duffy, Robert J. Orth

College of William and Mary, School of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, PO Box 1346, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
*Present address: Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Biology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Plant diversity is believed to govern animal community structure, yet few studies have tested this relationship. We manipulated plant species diversity and composition (2 seagrasses and 3 seaweeds) and measured the abundance, diversity, and biomass of plant-associated macroinvertebrates in a temperate, estuarine seagrass community. Animal diversity was weakly but positively related to plant diversity (Simpson¹s 1 - λ). Most indices of animal diversity, however, were more strongly related to total plant surface area than to plant diversity. Epifaunal abundance and biomass increased, whereas epifaunal diversity and evenness decreased with total plant surface area. Both food and habitat covary with plant surface area, providing potential mechanistic explanations for these patterns. Plant species composition had strong effects on epifaunal community structure. After statistically controlling for effects of plant surface area, epifaunal abundance and biomass remained higher, and evenness remained lower, among assemblages composed of branched (mostly seaweeds) relative to unbranched (mostly seagrasses) macrophytes. Multiple regression analyses also revealed differential use of particular plant species by epifauna. For example, amphipods responded particularly strongly to the coarsely branched red alga Gracilaria verrucosa. Thus, our experimental results support a strong effect of plant species composition, and little effect of plant diversity per se, on the motile macrofauna that we studied. This conclusion is consistent with results of a concurrent field survey; epifaunal community structure differed among plant species and seasons, with no host-plant specialists. These results support evidence from both terrestrial and aquatic communities; ecosystem structural and functional properties are often more strongly influenced by particular attributes, rather than number of species, in a community.


KEY WORDS: Biodiversity · Community structure · Epifauna · Macroalgae · Zostera marina


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