Restoring lost ecological function: ecological surrogates facilitate maintenance of coastal turf communities.
Lost or extinct ecosystem function presents challenges for managers of natural ecosystems for conservation. One solution is to use ecological surrogates to replace these processes but the settings under which this often controversial approach succeeds are unclear. We tested whether mammalian grazing could be used as a surrogate for grazing by an extinct avian herbivore guild in two threatened coastal turf communities that are structured by an exposure and salt gradient, and vulnerable to non-native encroachment and invasion. Prostrate species had higher cover and species density relative to erect taxa when grazed, with the effect greater for native than non-native taxa. Prostrate species, dominated by native taxa, were most abundant closest to the ocean, with a secondary peak in abundance 25-35 m inland. A positive nutrient feedback mechanism consistent with a grazing lawn was not observed suggesting a primary role for the salinity gradient, augmented by opportunistic grazing of taller species, in structuring these communities. Synthesis and application: mammalian grazers can replace the likely functional role of extinct avian herbivores in turf communities under certain environmental settings.