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Differential impacts of alternate primary producers on carbon cycling

Cite this dataset

Miranda, Khashiff; Weigel, Brooke; McCoy, Sophie; Pfister, Catherine (2021). Differential impacts of alternate primary producers on carbon cycling [Dataset]. Dryad.


Disturbance impacts the spatial distribution of primary producers, which can have cascading effects on ecosystem function. The lower-intertidal zone on the rocky shores of the Pacific Northwest is one such place where wave energy creates a mosaic-like distribution between two assemblages: surfgrass (Phyllospadix scouleri) meadows and macroalgal forests dominated by kelp. We simulated wave disturbance by experimentally removing patches of surfgrass monocultures, resulting in a macroalgal assemblage with increased diversity, biomass, and net primary productivity in the following year. While surfgrass had a higher C:N compared to macroalgal assemblages, macroalgal assemblages achieved a higher biomass, fixed carbon at a faster rate, and released more dissolved organic carbon (DOC) during photosynthesis. Thus, despite similar standing amounts of carbon, macroalgal assemblages have increased carbon turnover – from fixation to DOC release. Comparative photophysiology indicated that surfgrasses have a competitive advantage over other macrophytes at low-light levels, allowing them to persist when disturbance is reduced. Unexpectedly, disturbance in this system increased the potential for carbon sequestration when surfgrass monocultures were replaced by diverse macroalgae.