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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS - Vol. 447 - Feature article
The polychaete Diopatra cuprea (left), an ecosystem engineer, typically decorates its tube with algae (top right)—except in Florida (bottom right). Photos: S. Berke

Berke SK


Biogeographic variability in ecosystem engineering: patterns in the abundance and behavior of the tube-building polychaete Diopatra cuprea


Geographic variation in ecosystem engineering processes contributes to large-scale patterns in ecosystem structure and function. The tube-building polychaete Diopatra cuprea is an ecosystem engineer in sedimentary habitats of the Northwest Atlantic, where it famously festoons its tube with fragments of macroalgae. This behavior facilitates algal canopies in soft-bottom habitats. Berke reports striking biogeographic variation in D. cuprea’s propensity to attach algae — while populations from Cape Cod through Georgia support extensive algal canopies, Florida populations conspicuously fail to attach algae, even in controlled laboratory experiments. This behavioral pattern, coupled with a latitudinal gradient in abundance, has important implications for the composition of benthic communities. Disentangling the mechanisms behind such spatial variation is important for understanding patterns in ecosystem structure.


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