Context-dependent consumer control in New England tidal wetlands
Recent studies in coastal wetlands have indicated that consumers may play an important role in regulating large-scale ecosystem processes. Predator removal experiments have shown significant differences in above-ground biomass production in the presence of higher level consumers, or predators. These results indicate that predators play an important role in regulating biomass production, but the extent to which this regulation impacts additional ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling and organic matter accumulation, is unclear. This study evaluated the impact that consumers have on large-scale ecosystem processes within southern New England tidal wetlands and contributes to the general understanding of trophic control in these systems. I established enclosure cages within three coastal wetlands and manipulated the presence of green crab predators to assess how trophic interactions affect ecosystem functions. Findings suggest that although these consumers may exert some top-down effects, other environmental factors, such as other consumers not studied here or bottom-up interactions, may variably play a larger role in the maintenance of ecosystem processes within the region. These results indicate that the loss of top-down control as an important mechanism influencing ecosystem functions may not hold for all wetlands along the full extent of the New England coastline.