Deep burial in the sediment of tubers of fennel pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus) has been explained in terms of avoidance by escape against consumption by Bewick's swans (Cygnus columbianus bewickii) in autumn. We therefore expected changes in foraging pressure to ultimately result in a change in the tuber distribution across sediment depth. A trade-off underlies this idea: deep tubers are less accessible to swans but must be larger to meet the higher energy demands of sprouting in spring. To test this prediction, we compared tuber burial depth over a gradient of foraging pressure both across space and across time. Tuber samples were obtained after aboveground plant senescence but before arrival of Bewick's swans. First, we compared the current tuber bank depth profile in a shallow lake with high foraging pressure, the Lauwersmeer, with that in two wetlands with moderate and low foraging pressure. Second, we compared the current tuber burial in the Lauwersmeer with that in the early 1980s when exploitation by swans had just started there. In accordance with our hypothesis, we found significantly deeper burial of tubers under high consumption risk compared to low consumption risk, both when comparing sites and comparing time periods. Since tubers in effect only survive to the next spring, the observed differences in burial depth among sites and over time cannot be a direct result of tuber losses due to consumption by swans. Rather, these observations suggest adaptive responses in tuber burial related to foraging pressure from Bewick's swans in the recent past. We thus propose that fennel pondweed exhibits flexible avoidance by escape, of a kind rarely described for plants, where both phenotypic plasticity and genotype sorting may contribute to the observed differences in tuber burial.
Hidding, B., Nolet, B. A., van Eerden, M. R., Guillemain, M., & Klaassen, M. R. J. (2009). Burial depth distribution of fennel pondweed tubers (Potamogeton pectinatus) in relation to foraging by Bewick's swans. Aquatic Botany, 90(4), 321-327. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2008.12.001