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Ecology. 2008 Jan;89(1):165-73.

Grazing regulates the spatial variability of periphyton biomass.

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  • 1Botanical Institute, University of Cologne, Gyrhofstrasse 15, D-50931 Köln, Germany.


The presence of consumers not only alters the mean biomass of the prey assemblage, but also affects the spatial heterogeneity of biomass distribution. Whereas the mean prey biomass is generally reduced by consumer presence, the effect on spatial heterogeneity is less clear-cut. A meta-analysis of almost 600 field experiments manipulating the presence of benthic invertebrate or vertebrate grazers was conducted to analyze the effect of grazers on both the absolute spatial variability of periphyton biomass and the relative variability, which was standardized to the mean. Effects on absolute variability were measured as the log response ratio of the standard deviation of biomass (LR-SD), whereas effects on relative variability were measured as the log response ratio of the coefficient of variation of biomass (LR-CV). The overall magnitude and range of LR-SD and LR-CV indicated that grazers not only reduced periphyton biomass, but also substantially altered their spatial distribution. However, grazer effects differed strongly for absolute and relative variability. On average, grazers reduced the absolute spatial variability in prey biomass by 50% (average LR-SD = -0.68) but increased the relative variability by 24% (average LR-CV = 0.22). The magnitude of LR-SD strongly depended on the efficiency of grazing, with strong biomass removal leading to strong homogenization. Moreover, LR-CV and LR-SD were significantly affected by habitat type (freshwater vs. coastal) and substrata. Given the importance of spatial heterogeneity for resource uptake, competition and the maintenance of diversity, grazer presence has potentially strong indirect effects on the interactions within prey assemblages.

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