Effects of Changing Vegetation Composition on Community Structure, Ecosystem Functioning, and Predator–Prey Interactions at the Saltmarsh-Mangrove Ecotone
Decreasing frequency of freeze events due to climate change is enabling the poleward range expansion of mangroves. As these tropical trees expand poleward, they are replacing herbaceous saltmarsh vegetation. Mangroves and saltmarsh vegetation are ecosystem engineers that are typically viewed as having similar ecosystem functions. However, few studies have investigated whether predation regimes, community structure, and ecosystem functions are shifting at the saltmarsh-mangrove ecotone. In this
... e ecotone. In this study, we manipulated predator access to marsh and mangrove creekside habitats to test their role in mediating vegetation and invertebrate structure and stability in a two-year experiment. We also conducted a survey to evaluate how shifting vegetation is modifying structural complexity, invertebrate communities, and ecosystem functioning at the ecotone. Excluding larger (> 2 cm diameter) predators did not affect vegetation or invertebrate structure or stability in either saltmarsh or mangrove habitats. The survey revealed that the two habitat types consistently differ in structural metrics, including vegetation height, inter-stem distance, and density, yet they support similar invertebrate and algal communities, soil properties, and predation rates. We conclude that although mangrove range expansion immediately modifies habitat structural properties, it is not altering larger predator consumptive effects, community stability, community composition, or some other ecosystem functions and properties at the ecotone.