skip to main content

Title: Fisheries management influences phytoplankton biomass of Amazonian floodplain lakes

Tropical floodplains secure the protein supply of millions of people, but only sound management can ensure the long‐term continuity of such ecosystem services. Overfishing is a widespread threat to multitrophic systems, but how it affects ecosystem functioning is poorly understood, particularly in tropical freshwater food webs. Models based on temperate lakes frequently assume that primary producers are mostly bottom‐up controlled by nutrient and light limitations, with negligible effects of top‐down forces. Yet this assumption remains untested in complex tropical freshwater systems experiencing marked spatiotemporal variation.

We use consolidated community‐based fisheries management practices and spatial zoning to test the relative importance of bottom‐up versus top‐down drivers of phytoplankton biomass, controlling for the influence of local to landscape heterogeneity. Our study focuses on 58 large Amazonian floodplain lakes under different management regimes that resulted in a gradient of apex‐predator abundance. These lakes, distributed along ~600 km of a major tributary of the Amazon River, varied widely in size, structure, landscape context, and hydrological seasonality.

Using generalised linear models, we show that community‐based fisheries management, which controls the density of apex predators, is the strongest predictor of phytoplankton biomass during the dry season, when lakes become discrete landscape units. Water transparency also emerges as an important bottom‐up factor, but phosphorus, nitrogen and several lake and landscape metrics had minor or no effects on phytoplankton biomass. During the wet‐season food pulse, when lakes become connected to adjacent water bodies and homogenise the landscape, only lake depth explained phytoplankton biomass.

Synthesis and applications. Tropical freshwaters fisheries typically assume that fish biomass is controlled by bottom‐up mechanisms, so that overexploitation of large predators would not affect overall ecosystem productivity. Our results, however, show that top‐down forces are important drivers of primary productivity in tropical lakes, above and beyond the effects of bottom‐up factors. This helps us to understand the enormous success of community‐based ‘fishing agreements’ in the Amazon. Multiple stakeholders should embrace socio‐ecological management practices that shape both bottom‐up and top‐down forces to ensure biodiversity protection, sustainable fisheries yields and food security for local communities and regional economies.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Applied Ecology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 731-743
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Changes in seasonality associated with climate warming (e.g. temperature, growing season duration) are likely to alter invertebrate prey biomass and availability in aquatic ecosystems through direct and indirect influences on physiology and phenology, particularly in arctic lakes. However, despite warmer thermal regimes, photoperiod will remain unchanged such that potential shifts resulting from longer and warmer growing seasons could be limited by availability of sunlight, especially at lower trophic levels. Thus, a better understanding of warming effects on invertebrate prey throughout the growing season (e.g. early, peak, late) is important to understand arctic lake food‐web dynamics in a changing climate.

    Here, we use a multifaceted approach to evaluate prey availability to predators in lakes of arctic Alaska. In a laboratory mesocosm experiment, we measured different metrics of abundance for snails (Lymnaea elodes) and zooplankton (Daphnia middendorffiana) across three time periods (early, mid‐ and late growing season) and across three temperature and photoperiod treatments (control, increased temperature and increased temperature × photoperiod). Additionally, we used generalised additive models and generalised additive mixed‐effects models to relate long‐term empirical observations of zooplankton biomass (1983–2015) to observed temperature regimes in an arctic lake. We then simulated zooplankton biomass for the warmest temperature observations across the growing season to inform likely zooplankton biomass regimes under future change.

    We observed variable responses by snails and zooplankton across experiments and treatments. Early in the growing season, snail development was accelerated at multiple life stages (e.g. egg and juvenile). In mid‐season, in accordance with warmer temperatures, we observed significantly increasedDaphniaabundances. However, in the late season,Daphniaappeared to be limited by photoperiod. Confirming our experimental results, our models of zooplankton biomass showed an increase of nearly 20% in warmer years. Further, these model estimates could be conservative as the consumptive demand of fishes may increase in warmer years as well.

    Overall, our results highlight the importance of interactive effects of temperature and seasonality. Based primarily on temperature, we can readily predict the response of fish metabolism in warmer temperatures. However, in this context, we generally require a better understanding of climate‐driven responses of important invertebrate prey resources. Our results suggest invertebrate prey biomass and availability are likely to respond positively with climate change based on temperature and seasonality, as well as proportionally to the metabolic requirements of fish predators. While further research is necessary to understand how other food‐web components will respond climate change, our findings suggest that the fish community at the top of arctic lake food webs will have adequate prey base in a warming climate.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    We investigate where bottom‐up and top‐down control regulates ecological communities as a mechanism linking ecological gradients to the geography of consumer abundance and biomass. We use standardized surveys of 54 North American grasslands to test alternate hypotheses predicting 100‐fold shifts in the biomass of four common grassland arthropod taxa—Auchenorrhyncha, sucking herbivores, Acrididae, chewing herbivores, Tettigoniidae, omnivores, and Araneae, predators.

    Bottom‐up models predict that consumer biomass tracks plant quantity (e.g. productivity and standing biomass) and quality (nutrient content) and that ectotherm access to food increases with temperature. Each of the focal trophic groups responded differently to these drivers: the biomass of sucking herbivores and omnivores increased with plant biomass; that of chewing herbivores tracked plant quality; and predator biomass did not depend on plant quality, plant quantity or temperature.

    The Exploitation Ecosystem Hypothesis is a top‐down hypothesis that predicts a shift from resource limitation of herbivores when plant production is low, to predator limitation when plant production is high. In grasslands where spider biomass was low, herbivore biomass increased with plant biomass, whereas bottom‐up structuring was not evident when spiders were abundant. Furthermore, neither predator biomass nor trophic position (via stable isotope analysis) increased with plant biomass, suggesting predators themselves are top‐down limited.

    Stable isotope analysis revealed that trophic position of the chewing herbivore and omnivore increased significantly with plant biomass, suggesting these groups increased scavenging and meat consumption in grasslands with higher carbohydrate availability.

    Taken together, our snapshot sampling documents gradients of food web structure across 54 grasslands, consistent with multiple hypotheses of bottom‐up and top‐down regulation.

    more » « less
  3. Summary

    Food chain efficiency (FCE), the proportion of primary production converted to production of the top trophic level, can influence several ecosystem services as well as the biodiversity and productivity of each trophic level. AquaticFCEis affected by light and nutrient supply, largely via effects on primary producer stoichiometry that propagate to herbivores and then carnivores. Here, we test the hypothesis that the identity of the top carnivore mediatesFCEresponses to changes in light and nutrient supply.

    We conducted a large‐scale, 6‐week mesocosm experiment in which we manipulated light and nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) supply and the identity of the carnivore in a 2 × 2 × 2 factorial design. We quantified the response ofFCEand the biomass and productivity of each trophic level (phytoplankton, zooplankton, and carnivore). We used an invertebrate,Chaoborus americanus, and a vertebrate, bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus), as the two carnivores in this study because of the large difference in phosphorus requirements between these taxa.

    We predicted that bluegill would be more likely to experience P‐limitation due to higher P requirements, and hence thatFCEwould be lower in the bluegill treatments than in theChaoborustreatments. We also expected the interactive effect of light and nutrients to be stronger in the bluegill treatments. Within a carnivore treatment, we predicted highestFCEunder low light and high nutrient supply, as these conditions would produce high‐quality (low C:nutrient) algal resources. In contrast, if food quantity had a stronger effect on carnivore production than food quality, carnivore production would increase proportionally with primary production, thusFCEwould be similar across light and nutrient treatments.

    Carnivore identity mediated the effects of light and nutrients onFCE, and as predictedFCEwas higher in food chains withChaoborusthan with bluegill. Also as predicted,FCEinChaoborustreatments was higher under low light. However,FCEin bluegill treatments was higher at high light supply, opposite to our predictions. In addition, bluegill production increased proportionally with primary production, whileChaoborusproduction was not correlated with primary production, suggesting that bluegill responded more strongly to food quantity than to food quality. These carnivore taxa differ in traits other than body stoichiometry, for example, feeding selectivity, which may have contributed to the observed differences inFCEbetween carnivores.

    Comparison of our results with those from previous experiments showed thatFCEresponds similarly to light and nutrients in food chains withChaoborusand larval fish (gizzard shad: Clupeidae), but very differently in food chains with bluegill. These findings warrant further investigation into the mechanisms related to carnivore identity (e.g., developmental stage, feeding selectivity) underlying these responses, and highlight the importance of considering both top‐down and bottom‐up effects when evaluating food chain responses to changing light and nutrient conditions.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Microevolution can have consequences at higher levels of ecological organization. Although divergence among populations can be rapid and driven by anthropogenic changes to the environment, the ecological relevance of evolution induced by human activities remains poorly understood.

    A frequent way in which human activities drive microevolution is the increase in supply of nutrients such as phosphorus (P) that are required for fitness‐relevant traits such as growth and reproduction. Because higher P concentrations decrease P‐use efficiency and feeding rate in heterotrophic consumers such asDaphnia, we hypothesized that such adjustments should alter consumer–resource dynamics.

    We examined how cultural eutrophication in temperate lakes causes trait variation in the grazerDaphnia pulicaria. We tested for variation inDaphniatraits and genetic variation in the metabolic enzyme phosphoglucose isomerase (Pgi) which are each known to respond to eutrophication. We then examined the impact of this variation on consumer–resource dynamics using a combination of experiments and a multi‐lake survey.

    We found thatDaphniafrom hypereutrophic lakes responded to experimental hypereutrophic conditions with increased growth rates and fecundity when raised on P‐fertilized seston, but had reduced performance on P‐poor seston relative to eutrophic sourceDaphnia. These results suggest thatDaphniamay face a trade‐off in performance at low versus excess P that may be mediated in part by genetic variation at thePgilocus.

    The variation observed in laboratory growth experiments scaled up toDaphniapopulations in both mesocosm experiments and among lakes. In both the mesocosm experiment and in the lake survey,Daphniafrom hypereutrophic source lakes reached high biomass while phytoplankton biomass also remained high.

    Given the prevalence and rapid eutrophication of freshwater ecosystems worldwide, these results indicate that considering the potential effects of evolutionary change in ecosystem models could be useful in forecasting the effects of anthropogenic environmental change on pivotal ecosystem services.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Climate change is increasing the frequency, severity, and extent of wildfires and drought in many parts of the world, with numerous repercussions for the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of streams. However, information on how these perturbations affect top predators and their impacts on lower trophic levels in streams is limited.

    The top aquatic predator in southern California streams is nativeOncorhynchus mykiss, the endangered southern California steelhead trout (trout). To examine relationships among the distribution of trout, environmental factors, and stream invertebrate resources and assemblages, we sampled pools in 25 stream reaches that differed in the presence (nine reaches) or absence (16 reaches) of trout over 12 years, including eight reaches where trout were extirpated during the study period by drought or post‐fire flood disturbances.

    Trout were present in deep pools with high water and habitat quality. Invertebrate communities in trout pools were dominated by a variety of medium‐sized collector–gatherer and shredder invertebrate taxa with non‐seasonal life cycles, whereas tadpoles and large, predatory invertebrates (Odonata, Coleoptera, Hemiptera [OCH]), often with atmospheric breather traits, were more abundant in troutless than trout pools.

    Structural equation modelling of the algal‐based food web indicated a trophic cascade from trout to predatory invertebrates to collector–gatherer taxa and weaker direct negative trout effects on grazers; however, both grazers and collector–gatherers also were positively related to macroalgal biomass. Structural equation modelling also suggested that bottom‐up interactions and abiotic factors drove the detritus‐based food web, with shredder abundance being positively related to leaf litter (coarse particulate organic matter) levels, which, in turn, were positively related to canopy cover and negatively related to flow. These results emphasise the context dependency of trout effects on prey communities and of the relative importance of top‐down versus bottom‐up interactions on food webs, contingent on environmental conditions (flow, light, nutrients, disturbances) and the abundances and traits of component taxa.

    Invertebrate assemblage structure changed from a trout to a troutless configuration within a year or two after trout were lost owing to post‐fire scouring flows or drought. Increases in OCH abundance after trout were lost were much more variable after drought than after fire. The reappearance of trout in one stream resulted in quick, severe reductions in OCH abundance.

    These results indicate that climate‐change induced disturbances can result in the extirpation of a top predator, with cascading repercussions for stream communities and food webs. This study also emphasises the importance of preserving or restoring refuge habitats, such as deep, shaded, perennial, cool stream pools with high habitat and water quality, to prevent the extirpation of sensitive species and preserve native biodiversity during a time of climate change.

    more » « less