Alfonso Siciliano, David R. Schiel and Mads S. Thomsen
Recent research has shown that co-occurring primary and secondary habitat-forming species typically support higher biodiversity than do monocultures of the primary habitat-former alone. However, these ‘habitat cascades’ may not be universal and it is important to know whether, when and where positive effects on biodiversity from secondary habitat-forming species change to negative effects. Here, we tested how anthropogenic stressors (fertilisation and sedimentation) and unattached secondary habitat-forming Ulva seaweeds affected the primary habitat-forming seagrass, Zostera muelleri, and its associated invertebrates in the Avon–Heathcote Estuary, New Zealand. We experimentally stressed Zostera by adding different fertilisation and sediment levels. Fertilisation had little impact, whereas even low sedimentation levels had strong negative effects on Zostera and its associated fauna. In a second experiment, sediments and Ulva were added to seagrass beds and unvegetated mudflats to test whether sediment stress modifies habitat cascades. We found again strong negative effects of sediments on Zostera, irrespective of spatio-temporal conditions, and that negative effects of sediments on invertebrates were enhanced in the presence of the secondary habitat former. These results highlighted that anthropogenic stressors can destabilise habitat cascades; processes that may be of particular importance in estuaries that are characterised by low biodiversity and stressful environmental conditions.