Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cornerstone species

Natalie Low (East West XXVI, 2009-2010) and I recently published a paper in Ecology Letters where we describe how realistic losses of rare species from the base of the food web on Gulf of Maine rocky shores can have major consequences for how those systems work. In particular, those species represent an insignificant proportion of basal biomass, but their loss results in disproportionate declines in the animals in the system. We call these rare species the "cornerstones" of the communities, as they represent only a small fraction of biomass at the base of the food web, but they dictate the structure of the entire community. Virtually every portion of this project, from preliminary surveys that set the stage (EW XXVI), to the field experiments, to work this past fall to establish some key mechanisms by which rare seaweeds can disproportionately affect the animals that eat them (EW XXVIII, 2011-2012), involved students in the Three Seas Program. Way to go, guys!