Global Change Biology
Humans have drastically altered the abundance of animals in marine ecosystems via exploitation. Reduced abundance can destabilize food webs, leading to cascading indirect effects that dramatically reorganize community structure and shift ecosystem function. However, the additional implications of these top-down changes for biogeochemical cycles via consumer-mediated nutrient dynamics (CND) are often overlooked in marine systems, particularly in coastal areas. Here, we review research that underscores the importance of this bottom-up control at local, regional, and global scales in coastal marine ecosystems, and the potential implications of anthropogenic change to fundamentally alter these processes. We focus attention on the two primary ways consumers affect nutrient dynamics, with emphasis on implications for the nutrient capacity of ecosystems: (1) the storage and retention of nutrients in biomass, and (2) the supply of nutrients via excretion and egestion. Nutrient storage in consumer biomass may be especially important in many marine ecosystems because consumers, as opposed to producers, often dominate organismal biomass. As for nutrient supply, we emphasize how consumers enhance primary production through both press and pulse dynamics. Looking forward, we explore the importance of CDN for improving theory (e.g., ecological stoichiometry, metabolic theory, and biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships), all in the context of global environmental change. Increasing research focus on CND will likely transform our perspectives on how consumers affect the functioning of marine ecosystems.