Detrital traits affect substitutability of a range-expanding foundation species across latitude
13 May 2019Smith, Rachel; Osborne, Todd; Feller, Ilka; Byers, James
Climate-driven range shifts of foundation species could alter ecosystem processes and community composition by providing different resources than resident foundation species. Along the US Atlantic coast, the northward expanding foundation species, black mangrove, Avicennia germinans, is replacing the dominant salt marsh foundation species, marsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora. These species have distinct detrital attributes that ostensibly provide different resources to epifauna. We experimentally examined how detritus of these species affects decomposition and community composition in different habitat contexts at regional and local scales. First, we manipulated detritus identity (Avicennia, Spartina) at 13 sites across a 5° latitudinal gradient spanning mangrove, mixed marsh-mangrove, and salt marsh habitats. Across latitude, we found that Avicennia detritus decomposed 2-4 times faster than Spartina detritus, suggesting that detrital turnover will increase with mangrove expansion. Epifaunal abundance and richness increased 2-7 times from south to north (mangrove to salt marsh) and were equivalent between Avicennia and Spartina detritus except for crabs, a dominant taxonomic group that preferred Spartina detritus. Second, to examine the whether changing habitat context affected regional patterns, we manipulated detritus identity and surrounding habitat type (mangrove, salt marsh) at a single mixed site, also including inert mimics to separate structural and nutritional roles of detritus. Epifaunal richness was similar between the two detrital types, but crabs were 2-7 times more abundant in Spartina detritus, due to its structural attributes. Surrounding habitat type did not influence decomposition rate or community patterns, which suggests that latitudinal influences, not surrounding habitat, drove the regional community patterns in the first experiment. Overall, mangrove expansion could alter epifaunal communities due to the lower structural value and faster turnover of mangrove detritus. As species shift with changing climate, understanding foundation species substitutability is critical to predict community change, but we must account for concomitant environmental changes that also modify communities.