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Disturbance structures canopy and understory productivity along an environmental gradient
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  • Max Castorani,
  • Shannon Harrer,
  • Robert Miller,
  • Dan Reed
Max Castorani
University of Virginia
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Shannon Harrer
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Robert Miller
University of California Santa Barbara
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Dan Reed
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Abstract

Disturbances often disproportionately impact different vegetation layers in forests and other vertically-stratified ecosystems, shaping community structure and ecosystem function. However, disturbance-driven changes may be mediated by environmental conditions that affect habitat quality and species interactions. In a decade-long field experiment, we tested how kelp forest net primary productivity (NPP) responds to repeated canopy loss along a gradient in grazing and substrate suitability. We discovered that habitat quality can mediate the effects of intensified disturbance on canopy and understory NPP. Experimental pulse and press disturbances suppressed total macroalgal NPP, but effects were strongest in high-quality habitats that supported dense kelp canopies that were removed by disturbance. Understory macroalgae partly compensated for canopy NPP losses and this effect magnified with increasing habitat quality. Disturbance-driven increases in understory NPP were still rising after 7–10 years of disturbance, demonstrating the value of long-term experimentation for understanding ecosystem responses to rapidly changing disturbance regimes.

Peer review status:IN REVISION

05 Feb 2021Submitted to Ecology Letters
08 Feb 2021Submission Checks Completed
08 Feb 2021Assigned to Editor
09 Feb 2021Reviewer(s) Assigned
11 Apr 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
13 Apr 2021Editorial Decision: Revise Major
18 Jun 20211st Revision Received
21 Jun 2021Assigned to Editor
21 Jun 2021Submission Checks Completed