New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2003) 27(1): 67- 73

Ecosystem engineering moving away from just-so stories

Forum Article
K. Berkenbusch 1,2,3*
A. A. Rowden 2
  1. Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 14-901, Wellington, New Zealand
  3. Address for correspondence: Environmental Protection Agency, 2111 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, Oregon 97365, U.S.A.
*  Corresponding author

The concept of ecosystem engineering has been proposed recently to account for key processes between organisms and their environment which are not directly trophic or competitive, and which result in the modification, maintenance and/or creation of habitats. Since the initial reporting of the idea, little work has been undertaken to apply the proposed concept to potential ecosystem engineers in the marine environment. Biological and ecological data for the burrowing ghost shrimp Callianassa filholi (Decapoda: Thalassinidea) allowed for a formal assessment of this species as an ecosystem engineer, in direct accordance with published criteria. Despite a low population density and the short durability of its burrow structures, Callianassa filholi affected a number of resource flows by its large lifetime per capita activity. Ecosystem effects were evident in significant changes in macrofauna community composition over small spatial and temporal scales. Seasonal variation in the effects of ghost shrimp activity were associated with changes in seagrass (Zostera novazelandica) biomass, which revealed the probability of interactions between antagonistic ecosystem engineers. The formal assessment of Callianassa filholi provides the opportunity to aid discussion pertaining to the development of the ecosystem engineering concept.