Herbivore effects increase with latitude across the extent of a foundational seagrass. Academic Article uri icon


  • Climate change is altering the functioning of foundational ecosystems. While the direct effects of warming are expected to influence individual species, the indirect effects of warming on species interactions remain poorly understood. In marine systems, as tropical herbivores undergo poleward range expansion, they may change food web structure and alter the functioning of key habitats. While this process ('tropicalization') has been documented within declining kelp forests, we have a limited understanding of how this process might unfold across other systems. Here we use a network of sites spanning 23 of latitude to explore the effects of increased herbivory (simulated via leaf clipping) on the structure of a foundational marine plant (turtlegrass). By working across its geographic range, we also show how gradients in light, temperature and nutrients modified plant responses. We found that turtlegrass near its northern boundary was increasingly affected (reduced productivity) by herbivory and that this response was driven by latitudinal gradients in light (low insolation at high latitudes). By contrast, low-latitude meadows tolerated herbivory due to high insolation which enhanced plant carbohydrates. We show that as herbivores undergo range expansion, turtlegrass meadows at their northern limit display reduced resilience and may be under threat of ecological collapse.

published proceedings

  • Nat Ecol Evol

author list (cited authors)

  • Campbell, J. E., Kennedy Rhoades, O., Munson, C. J., Altieri, A. H., Douglass, J. G., Heck, K. L., ... Wied, W. L.

complete list of authors

  • Campbell, Justin E||Kennedy Rhoades, O||Munson, Calvin J||Altieri, Andrew H||Douglass, James G||Heck, Kenneth L||Paul, Valerie J||Armitage, Anna R||Barry, Savanna C||Bethel, Enrique||Christ, Lindsey||Christianen, Marjolijn JA||Dodillet, Grace||Dutton, Katrina||Fourqurean, James W||Frazer, Thomas K||Gaffey, Bethany M||Glazner, Rachael||Goeke, Janelle A||Grana-Valdes, Rancel||Jenkins, Victoria J||Kramer, Olivier AA||Linhardt, Samantha T||Martin, Charles W||Martinez Lopez, Isis G||McDonald, Ashley M||Main, Vivienne A||Manuel, Sarah A||Marco-Méndez, Candela||O'Brien, Duncan A||O'Shea, Owen R||Patrick, Christopher J||Peabody, Clare||Reynolds, Laura K||Rodriguez, Alex||Rodriguez Bravo, Lucia M||Sang, Amanda||Sawall, Yvonne||Smith, Khalil||Smulders, Fee OH||Sun, Uriah||Thompson, Jamie E||van Tussenbroek, Brigitta||Wied, William L

publication date

  • February 2024