Consumer return chronology alters recovery trajectory of stream ecosystem structure and function following drought

TitleConsumer return chronology alters recovery trajectory of stream ecosystem structure and function following drought
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsMurdock, JM, Gido, KB, Dodds, WK, Bertrand, KN, Whiles, MR
Pagination1048 -1062
Accession NumberKNZ001260

Consumers are increasingly being recognized as important drivers of ecological succession, yet it is still hard to predict the nature and direction of consumer effects in nonequilibrium environments. We used stream consumer exclosures and large outdoor mesocosms to study the impact of macroconsumers (i.e., fish and crayfish) on recovery of intermittent prairie streams after drying. In the stream, macroconsumers altered system recovery trajectory by decreasing algal and macroinvertebrate biomass, primary productivity, and benthic nutrient uptake rates. However, macroconsumer influence was transient, and differences between exclosures and controls disappeared after 35 days. Introducing and removing macroconsumers after 28 days resulted mainly in changes to macroinvertebrates. In mesocosms, a dominant consumer (the grazing minnow Phoxinus erythrogaster) reduced macroinvertebrate biomass but had little effect on algal assemblage structure and ecosystem rates during recovery. The weak effect of P. erythrogaster in mesocosms, in contrast to the strong consumer effect in the natural stream, suggests that both timing and diversity of returning consumers are important to their overall influence on stream recovery patterns. Although we found that consumers significantly altered ecosystem structure and function in a system experiencing rapid changes in abiotic and biotic factors following disturbance, consumer effects diminished over time and trajectories converged to similar states with respect to primary producers, in spite of differences in consumer colonization history. Thus, consumer impacts can be substantial in recovering ecosystems and are likely to be dependent on the disturbance regime and diversity of the consumer community.