Foundation species provide habitat to other organisms and enhance ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling, carbon storage and sequestration, and erosion control. We focus on freshwater wetlands because these ecosystems are often characterized by foundation species; eutrophication and other environmental changes may cause the loss of some of these species, thus severely damaging wetland ecosystems. To better understand how wetland primary producer foundation species support other species and ecosystem functions across environmental gradients, we reviewed ~150 studies in subtropical, boreal, and temperate freshwater wetlands. We look at how the relative dominance of conspicuous and well-documented species (i.e., sawgrass, benthic diatoms and cyanobacteria, Sphagnum mosses, and bald cypress) and the foundational roles they play interact with hydrology, nutrient availability, and exposure to fire and salinity in representative wetlands. Based on the evidence analyzed, we argue that the foundation species concept should be more broadly applied to include organisms that regulate ecosystems at different spatial scales, notably the microscopic benthic algae that critically support associated communities and mediate freshwater wetlands’ ecosystem functioning. We give recommendations on how further research efforts can be prioritized to best inform the conservation of foundation species and of the freshwater wetlands they support.
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