The contrasting histories of the western and eastern shores of the North Atlantic Ocean provide an excellent opportunity to consider the implications of past events for present ecological processes and the functioning of marine ecosystems. Similarities and differences in assemblage composition have been driven by large-scale events, such as the trans-Arctic interchange, which has shaped the species pool, and cycles of glaciation, which have determined phases of local or regional extinction and colonization. More recently, anthropogenically induced invasions and local extinctions have significantly altered biogeographic distributions. Here we consider for both hard and soft substrata how the presence or absence of key taxa influences the outcomes of trophic and other biological interactions, and evaluate the consequences for community structure and ecosystem functioning. On intertidal hard substratum shores, biodiversity of epilithic microphagous grazers differs across latitudinal and longitudinal scales. Diversity is high in southern Europe but declines to the north and across the Atlantic. Lower diversity and the absence of patellid limpets in Iceland and the northwest Atlantic compared to Europe result in differences in consumer pressure, and an apparent contrast in the importance of herbivory vs. competitive interactions and predation pressure as community structuring processes. Interestingly, despite differences in "process," community patterns are remarkably similar between the east and west. On soft sediment shores, there are conspicuous geographic differences in importance of bioturbators and large digging predators. Hemichordates can be abundant and important infaunal bioturbators in the western Atlantic, but they generally play a much reduced role in the eastern Atlantic. In addition, the number and diversity of digging predators on western Atlantic shores is high; the horseshoe crab, swimming portunid crabs, large whelks, excavating waterfowl, and an abundance of skates and rays exert intense predation pressure and associated biogenic disturbance to sediments. In Europe, except for excavating waterfowl these taxa are rare or absent. Thus, the importance of large, biological agents of disturbance is lower on European shores as a consequence of both recent anthropogenic pressure and natural processes over larger time scales. Consideration of key structuring taxa over the Atlantic shows that human-mediated transport has had considerable influence. Faunas on both sides of the Atlantic are becoming more similar to the point that some of the key differences in assemblage composition and hence community organization have blurred. Recent introductions as well as planned experimental manipulations provide the opportunity to understand the role of species identity in determining community structure and ecosystem functioning over large spatial scales; the North Atlantic may be an ideal test system to explore these areas.