Experimental evidence for enhanced top-down control of freshwater macrophytes with nutrient enrichment

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The abundance of primary producers is controlled by bottom-up and top-down forces. Despite the fact that there is consensus that the abundance of freshwater macrophytes is strongly influenced by the availability of resources for plant growth, the importance of top-down control by vertebrate consumers is debated, because field studies yield contrasting results. We hypothesized that these bottom-up and top-down forces may interact, and that consumer impact on macrophyte abundance depends on the nutrient status of the water body. To test this hypothesis, experimental ponds with submerged vegetation containing a mixture of species were subjected to a fertilization treatment and we introduced consumers (mallard ducks, for 8 days) on half of the ponds in a full factorial design. Over the whole 66-day experiment fertilized ponds became dominated by Elodea nuttallii and ponds without extra nutrients by Chara globularis. Nutrient addition significantly increased plant N and P concentrations. There was a strong interactive effect of duck presence and pond nutrient status: macrophyte biomass was reduced (by 50 %) after the presence of the ducks on fertilized ponds, but not in the unfertilized ponds. We conclude that nutrient availability interacts with top-down control of submerged vegetation. This may be explained by higher plant palatability at higher nutrient levels, either by a higher plant nutrient concentration or by a shift towards dominance of more palatable plant species, resulting in higher consumer pressure. Including nutrient availability may offer a framework to explain part of the contrasting field observations of consumer control of macrophyte abundance.http://link.springer.com/journal/442
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)825-836
Issue number3
Early online date07 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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