Nutrient additions represent an important anthropogenic stress on coastal ecosystems. At moderate levels, increased nutrients may lead to increased primary production and, possibly, to increased biomass of consumers although complex trophic interactions may modify or mask these effects. We examined the influence of nutrient additions and interactive effects of trophic interactions (predation) on benthic infaunal composition and abundances through small-scale field experiments in 2 estuaries that differed in ambient nutrient conditions. A blocked experimental design was used that allowed an assessment of direct nutrient effects in the presence and absence of predation by epibenthic predators as well as an assessment of the independent effects of predation. Benthic microalgal production increased with experimental nutrient additions and was greater when infaunal abundances were lower, but there were no significant interactions between these factors. Increased abundances of one infaunal taxa, Laeonereis culveri, as well as the grazer feeding guild were observed with nutrient additions and a number of taxa exhibited higher abundances with predator exclusion. In contrast to results from freshwater systems there were no significant interactive effects between nutrient additions and predator exclusion as was predicted. The infaunal responses observed here emphasize the importance of both bottom-up (nutrient addition and primary producer driven) and top-down (predation) controls in structuring benthic communities. These processes may work at different spatial and temporal scales, and affect different taxa, making observation of potential interactive effects difficult.
Additional publication details
Interactive effects of nutrient additions and predation on infaunal communities