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Published August 2010 | public
Journal Article

Ecosystem Engineers in the Pelagic Realm: Alteration of Habitat by Species Ranging from Microbes to Jellyfish


Ecosystem engineers are species that alter the physical environment in ways that create new habitat or change the suitability of existing habitats for themselves or other organisms. In marine systems, much of the focus has been on species such as corals, oysters, and macrophytes that add physical structure to the environment, but organisms ranging from microbes to jellyfish and finfish that reside in the water column of oceans, estuaries, and coastal seas alter the chemical and physical environment both within the water column and on the benthos. By causing hypoxia, changing light regimes, and influencing physical mixing, these organisms may have as strong an effect as species that fall more clearly within the classical category of ecosystem engineer. In addition, planktonic species, such as jellyfish, may indirectly alter the physical environment through predator-mediated landscape structure. By creating spatial patterns of habitats that vary in their rates of mortality due to predation, planktonic predators may control spatial patterns and abundances of species that are the direct creators or modifiers of physical habitat.

Additional Information

© The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Advanced Access publication June 16, 2010. From the symposium ''Marine Ecosystem Engineers in a Changing World: Establishing Links across Systems'' presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, January 3–7, 2010, at Seattle, Washington. We would like to thank S. Berke and L. Walters for organizing the symposium on ecosystem engineers. Support was provided by Maryland Sea Grant R/P-54 to D. Breitburg and National Science Foundation grants OCE0453905, OCE0961920, and GSTCN0001A7 to B. Crump for research described in this manuscript. We also thank the National Science Foundation (IOS-0938257), The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Division of Ecology and Evolution and the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, and the American Microscopy Society for supporting the symposium and publication.

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August 19, 2023
October 20, 2023