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Journal Article

Positive and Negative Effects of Organisms as Physical Ecosystem Engineers

Clive G. Jones, John H. Lawton and Moshe Shachak
Ecology
Vol. 78, No. 7 (Oct., 1997), pp. 1946-1957
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Ecological Society of America
DOI: 10.2307/2265935
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2265935
Page Count: 12
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Positive and Negative Effects of Organisms as Physical Ecosystem Engineers
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Abstract

Physical ecosystem engineers are organisms that directly or indirectly control the availability of resources to other organisms by causing physical state changes in biotic or abiotic materials. Physical ecosystem engineering by organisms is the physical modification, maintenance, or creation of habitats. Ecological effects of engineers on many other species occur in virtually all ecosystems because the physical state changes directly create nonfood resources such as living space, directly control abiotic resources, and indirectly modulate abiotic forces that, in turn, affect resource use by other organisms. Trophic interactions and resource competition do not constitute engineering. Engineering can have significant or trivial effects on other species, may involve the physical structure of an organism (like a tree) or structures made by an organism (like a beaver dam), and can, but does not invariably, have feedback effects on the engineer. We argue that engineering has both negative and positive effects on species richness and abundances at small scales, but the net effects are probably positive at larger scales encompassing engineered and nonengineered environments in ecological and evolutionary space and time. Models of the population dynamics of engineers suggest that the engineer/habitat equilibrium is often, but not always, locally stable and may show long-term cycles, with potential ramifications for community and ecosystem stability. As yet, data adequate to parameterize such a model do not exist for any engineer species. Because engineers control flows of energy and materials but do not have to participate in these flows, energy, mass, and stoichiometry do not appear to be useful in predicting which engineers will have big effects. Empirical observations suggest some potential generalizations about which species will be important engineers in which ecosystems. We point out some of the obvious, and not so obvious, ways in which engineering and trophic relations interact, and we call for greater research on physical ecosystem engineers, their impacts, and their interface with trophic relations.

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