Increasing fish taxonomic and functional richness affects ecosystem properties of small headwater prairie streams

TitleIncreasing fish taxonomic and functional richness affects ecosystem properties of small headwater prairie streams
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMartin, ED, Gido, KB, Bello, N, Dodds, WK, Veach, AM
JournalFreshwater Biology
Accession NumberKNZ001724

1. Stream fish can regulate their environment through direct and indirect pathways, and the relative influence of communities with different taxonomic and functional richness on ecosystem properties likely depends on habitat structure. Given this complexity, it is not surprising that observational studies of how stream fish communities influence ecosystems have shown mixed results. 2. In this study, we evaluated the effect of an observed gradient of taxonomic (zero, one, two or three species) and functional (zero, one or two groups) richness of fishes on several key ecosystem properties in experimental stream mesocosms. Our study simulated small (less than two metres wide) headwater prairie streams with a succession of three pool-riffle structures (upstream, middle and downstream) per mesocosm. Ecosystem responses included chlorophyll a from floating algal mats and benthic algae, benthic organic matter, macroinvertebrates (all as mass per unit area), algal filament length and stream metabolism (photosynthesis and respiration rate). Ecosystem responses were analysed individually using general linear mixed models. 3. Significant treatment (taxonomic and functional richness) by habitat (pools and riffles) interactions were found for all but one ecosystem response variable. After accounting for location (upstream, middle and downstream) effects, the presence of one or two grazers resulted in shorter mean algal filament lengths in pools compared to no-fish controls. These observations suggest grazers can maintain short algal filaments in pools, which may inhibit long filaments from reaching the surface. Accordingly, floating algal mats decreased in mid- and downstream locations in grazer treatment relative to no-fish controls. 4. At the scale of the entire reach, gross primary productivity and respiration were greater in treatments with two grazer species compared to mixed grazer/insectivore or control treatments. 5. The distribution of stream resources across habitat types and locations within a reach can therefore be influenced by the taxonomic and functional composition of fishes in small prairie streams. Thus, disturbances that alter diversity of these systems might have unexpected ecosystem-level consequences.