We evaluated the potential for grazers to regulate benthic algal biomass and taxonomic composition in an Alaskan marsh after enrichment with nutrients that are expected to increase in the region with ongoing climate change. We nested caged and uncaged substrates together inside mesocosm enclosures with natural abundances of snails or no snails and with or without nutrient enrichment (NO3 PO4 Si). Algal biomass was greater in all nutrient-enriched enclosures than in controls. Algal biomass was greater in enclosures where grazers were present but excluded by a cage than in enclosures where grazers were allowed to graze or where grazers were absent. In the presence of nutrients, grazed communities were dominated by small coccoid green algae and cyanobacteria, which were overgrown by filamentous green algae when grazers were excluded. In the absence of nutrients, grazers had little effect on algal biomass or taxonomic composition. However, grazers recycled a small but potentially important amount of nutrients in their waste, suggesting that consumer-driven nutrient recycling may have played a role in maintaining algal biomass when grazers were present. Our data show that grazers regulate algal responses to nutrients by suppressing algal accumulation but increasing productivity through nutrient recycling in a northern boreal wetland.
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