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Shorebirds-driven trophic cascade helps restore coastal wetland multifunctionality


  • Chunming Li

    (Fudan University)

  • Jianshe Chen

    (Fudan University)

  • Xiaolin Liao

    (Nanjing Forestry University)

  • Aaron P. Ramus

    (University of North Carolina Wilmington)

  • Christine Angelini

    (University of Florida)

  • Lingli Liu

    (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

  • Brian R. Silliman

    (Duke University)

  • Mark D. Bertness

    (Brown University)

  • Qiang He

    (Fudan University)


Ecosystem restoration has traditionally focused on re-establishing vegetation and other foundation species at basal trophic levels, with mixed outcomes. Here, we show that threatened shorebirds could be important to restoring coastal wetland multifunctionality. We carried out surveys and manipulative field experiments in a region along the Yellow Sea affected by the invasive cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. We found that planting native plants alone failed to restore wetland multifunctionality in a field restoration experiment. Shorebird exclusion weakened wetland multifunctionality, whereas mimicking higher predation before shorebird population declines by excluding their key prey – crab grazers – enhanced wetland multifunctionality. The mechanism underlying these effects is a simple trophic cascade, whereby shorebirds control crab grazers that otherwise suppress native vegetation recovery and destabilize sediments (via bioturbation). Our findings suggest that harnessing the top-down effects of shorebirds – through habitat conservation, rewilding, or temporary simulation of consumptive or non-consumptive effects – should be explored as a nature-based solution to restoring the multifunctionality of degraded coastal wetlands.

Suggested Citation

  • Chunming Li & Jianshe Chen & Xiaolin Liao & Aaron P. Ramus & Christine Angelini & Lingli Liu & Brian R. Silliman & Mark D. Bertness & Qiang He, 2023. "Shorebirds-driven trophic cascade helps restore coastal wetland multifunctionality," Nature Communications, Nature, vol. 14(1), pages 1-14, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:nat:natcom:v:14:y:2023:i:1:d:10.1038_s41467-023-43951-3
    DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-43951-3

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    References listed on IDEAS

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