Decoupling of nutrient and grazer impacts on a benthic estuarine diatom assemblage.
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Strong interactions between top-down (consumptive) and bottom-up (resource supply) trophic factors occur in many aquatic communities, but these forces can act independently in some microphytobenthic communities. Within benthic estuarine diatom assemblages, the dynamics of these interactions and how they vary with abiotic environmental conditions are not well understood. We conducted a field experiment at two sites with varying habitat characteristics to investigate the interactive effects of grazers and nutrients on benthic estuarine diatoms. We crossed snail (Cerithidea californica) and nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) addition treatments in enclosures on a restored tidal sandflat and a reference tidal mudflat in Mugu Lagoon, southern California. We repeated the study in summer 2000 and spring 2001 to assess temporal variation in the interactions. Snails caused a large decrease in diatom relative abundance and biomass (estimated as surface area); nutrients increased diatom abundance but did not alter diatom biomass. Snails and nutrients both reduced average diatom length, although the nutrient effect was weaker and temporally variable, occurring in the reference mudflat in the spring. There were few interactions between snail and nutrient addition treatments, suggesting that links between top-down and bottom-up forces on the diatom community were weak. There were no consistent differences in diatom assemblage characteristics between the two study sites, despite marked differences in sediment grain size and other abiotic characteristics between the sites. The strong diatom response to herbivores and weaker responses to enrichment differed from the previous studies where cyanobacteria increased in response to nutrient enrichment, further dissolving the "black box" perception of microphytobenthic communities.