Latitudinal gradients in ecosystem engineering by oysters vary across habitats

Dominic McAfee*, Victoria J. Cole, Melanie J. Bishop

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

37 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Ecological theory predicts that positive interactions among organisms will increase across gradients of increasing abiotic stress or consumer pressure. This theory has been supported by empirical studies examining the magnitude of ecosystem engineering across environmental gradients and between habitat settings at local scale. Predictions that habitat setting, by modifying both biotic and abiotic factors, will determine large-scale gradients in ecosystem engineering have not been tested, however. A combination of manipulative experiments and field surveys assessed whether along the east Australian coastline: (1) facilitation of invertebrates by the oyster Saccostrea glomerata increased across a latitudinal gradient in temperature; and (2) the magnitude of this effect varied between intertidal rocky shores and mangrove forests. It was expected that on rocky shores, where oysters are the primary ecosystem engineer, they would play a greater role in ameliorating latitudinal gradients in temperature than in mangroves, where they are a secondary ecosystem engineer living under the mangrove canopy. On rocky shores, the enhancement of invertebrate abundance in oysters as compared to bare microhabitat decreased with latitude, as the maximum temperatures experienced by intertidal organisms diminished. By contrast, in mangrove forests, where the mangrove canopy resulted in maximum temperatures that were cooler and of greater humidity than on rocky shores, we found no evidence of latitudinal gradients of oyster effects on invertebrate abundance. Contrary to predictions, the magnitude by which oysters enhanced biodiversity was in many instances similar between mangroves and rocky shores. Whether habitat-context modifies patterns of spatial variation in the effects of ecosystem engineers on community structure will depend, in part, on the extent to which the environmental amelioration provided by an ecosystem engineer replicates that of other co-occurring ecosystem engineers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929-939
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright by the Ecological Society of America. Article published in Ecology, 97(4), pp. 929-939 by Dominic McAfee, Victoria J. Cole and Melanie J. Bishop.

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