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Microscale variations of food web functioning within a rocky shore invertebrate community

Abstract : The assessment of relevant spatial scales at which ecological processes occur is of special importance for a thorough understanding of ecosystem functioning. In coastal ecosystems, the variability of trophic interactions has been studied at different spatial scales, but never at scales from centimetres to metres. In the present study, we investigated the link between habitat structure and small-scale variability of food web functioning on intertidal boulder field ecosystems. Two microhabitats, boulder-top and boulder-bottom, were considered, and the trophic ecology of invertebrate consumers was studied using stable isotope tracers. We found for two of the main suspension feeders of northern Atlantic rocky shores (the sponges Halichondria panicea and Hymeniacidon sanguinea) consistent N-15 enrichment for individuals sampled under boulders, suggesting that these consumers relied on different trophic resource according to the microhabitat inhabited, at a centimetre scale. The high delta N-15 signatures found underneath boulders suggested higher use of highly decomposed organic matter in this microhabitat. The isotopic difference between the two microhabitats decreased in higher trophic level consumers, which likely foraged at a spatial scale including both microhabitats. Finally, our results reveal that in highly heterogeneous habitats such as boulder fields, trophic interactions are likely to vary strongly in space, which should be considered in future researches. The link between habitat physical structure and food web variability might also contribute to the high biological diversity characterizing heterogeneous ecosystems.
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Gauthier Schaal, Pascal Riera, Cédric Leroux. Microscale variations of food web functioning within a rocky shore invertebrate community. Marine Biology, Springer Verlag, 2011, 158 (3), pp.623-630. ⟨10.1007/s00227-010-1586-2⟩. ⟨hal-01255968⟩

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