Grazer responses to variable macroalgal resource conditions facilitate habitat structuring

Gavin M. Rishworth, Renzo Perissinotto, Matthew S. Bird, Noémie Pelletier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Consumer responses to altered resource conditions can vary depending on dietary preference, resource characteristics and secondary resource features such as shelter. These can have cascading effects, especially if the consumed resource impacts on overall ecological functioning. In this study, we assessed the dietary composition of grazer communities following seasonal changes in the characteristics of their staple food-source (macroalgae). This was conducted in the living stromatolite pools growing along the coast of South Africa. Stable isotope mixing models suggested that following macroalgal bleaching in summer, metazoan consumers shifted their diet from predominantly macroalgae to a generalist composition. This has important implications for the integrity of the stromatolite matrix and its layered deposition. Where previously in winter stromatolite microalgae comprised a minor component of metazoan consumer diets, in summer, following a change in the resource conditions of macroalgae, microalgae featured more prominently in grazer diets. This seasonal grazing pressure on stromatolite-related resources probably promotes the pattern of annual layering observed in the stromatolite accretion. It also demonstrates a mechanism whereby grazer dietary shifts following a change in their preferred food resource can affect the ecosystem structure of their environment, specifically the stromatolite layering process which responds to microalgal growth or grazing conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number171428
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2018


  • Ecosystem engineer
  • Extant microbialite
  • Foraging choice
  • Stable isotope analysis
  • Top-down pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Multidisciplinary


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