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  1. Many consumers depend on the contemporaneous growth of their food resources. For example,Tanytarsus gracilentusmidges feed on algae, and because midge generation time is much longer than that of algae, individual midges benefit not just from the standing stock but also from the growth of algae during their lifespans. This implies that an intermediate consumption rate maximizes midge somatic growth: low consumption rates constrain midge growth because they do not fully utilize the available food, whereas high consumption rates suppress algal biomass growth and consequently limit future food availability. An experiment manipulating midge presence and initial algal abundance showed that midges can suppress algal growth, as measured by changes in algal gross primary production (GPP). We also found a positive relationship between GPP and midge growth. A consumer–resource model fit to the experimental data showed a hump‐shaped relationship between midge consumption rates and their somatic growth. In the model, predicted midge somatic growth rates were only positively associated with GPP when their consumption rate was below the value that optimized midge growth. Therefore, midges did not overexploit algae in the experiment. This work highlights the balance that consumers which depend on contemporaneous resource growth might have to strike between short‐term growth and future food availability, and the benefits for consumers when they ‘manage' their resources well.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  2. Quantifying temporal variation in demographic rates is a central goal of population ecology. In this study, we analyzed a multidecadal age-structured time series of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) abundance in Lake Mývatn, Iceland, to infer the time-varying demographic response of the population to reduced harvest in the wake of the fishery’s collapse. Our analysis shows that while survival probability of adults increased following the alleviation of harvesting pressure, per capita recruitment consistently declined over most of the study period, until the final three years when it began to increase. The countervailing demographic trends resulted in only limited directional change in the total population size and population growth rate. Rather, the population dynamics were dominated by large interannual variability and a shift towards an older age distribution. Our results are indicative of a slow recovery of the population after its collapse, despite the rising number of adults following relaxed harvest. This underscores the potential for heterogeneous demographic responses to management efforts due to the complex ecological context in which such efforts take place.

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  3. Abstract

    While climate warming is widely predicted to reduce body size of ectotherms, evidence for this trend is mixed. Body size depends not only on temperature but also on other factors, such as food quality and intraspecific competition. Because temperature trends or other long‐term environmental factors may affect population size and food sources, attributing trends in average body size to temperature requires the separation of potentially confounding effects. We evaluated trends in the body size of the midgeTanytarsus gracilentusand potential drivers (water temperature, population size, and food quality) between 1977 and 2015 at Lake Mývatn, Iceland. Although temperatures increased at Mývatn over this period, there was only a slight (non‐significant) decrease in midge adult body size, contrary to theoretical expectations. Using a state‐space model including multiple predictors, body size was negatively associated with both water temperature and midge population abundance, and it was positively associated with13C enrichment of midges (an indicator of favorable food conditions). The magnitude of these effects were similar, such that simultaneous changes in temperature, abundance, and carbon stable isotopic signature could counteract each other in the long‐term body size trend. Our results illustrate how multiple factors, all of which could be influenced by global change, interact to affect average ectotherm body size.

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  4. Abstract

    Population cycles can be caused by consumer–resource interactions. Confirming the role of consumer–resource interactions, however, can be challenging due to an absence of data for the resource candidate. For example, interactions between midge larvae and benthic algae likely govern the high‐amplitude population fluctuations ofTanytarsus gracilentusin Lake Mývatn, Iceland, but there are no records of benthic resources concurrent with adult midge population counts. Here, we investigate consumer population dynamics using the carbon stable isotope signatures of archivedT. gracilentusspecimens collected from 1977 to 2015, under the assumption that midge δ13C values reflect those of resources they consumed as larvae. We used the time series for population abundance and δ13C to estimate interactions between midges and resources while accounting for measurement error and possible preservation effects on isotope values. Results were consistent with consumer–resource interactions: high δ13C values preceded peaks in the midge population, and δ13C values tended to decline after midges reached high abundance. One interpretation of this dynamic coupling is that midge isotope signatures reflect temporal variation in benthic algal δ13C values, which we expected to mirror primary production. Following from this explanation, high benthic production (enriched δ13C values) would contribute to increased midge abundance, and high midge abundance would result in declining benthic production (depleted δ13C values). An additional and related explanation is that midges deplete benthic algal abundance once they reach peak densities, causing midges to increase their relative reliance on other resources including detritus and associated microorganisms. Such a shift in resource use would be consistent with the subsequent decline in midge δ13C values. Our study adds evidence that midge–resource interactions driveT. gracilentusfluctuations and demonstrates a novel application of stable isotope time‐series data to understand consumer population dynamics.

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  5. Abstract

    Ecosystem engineers have large impacts on the communities in which they live, and these impacts may feed back to populations of engineers themselves. In this study, we assessed the effect of ecosystem engineering on density‐dependent feedbacks for midges in Lake Mývatn, Iceland. The midge larvae reside in the sediment and build silk tubes that provide a substrate for algal growth, thereby elevating benthic primary production. Benthic algae are in turn the primary food source for the midge larvae, setting the stage for the effects of engineering to feed back to the midges themselves. Using a field mesocosm experiment manipulating larval midge densities, we found a generally positive but nonlinear relationship between density and benthic production. Furthermore, adult emergence increased with the primary production per midge larva. By combining these two relationships in a simple model, we found that the positive effect of midges on benthic production weakened negative density dependence at low to intermediate larval densities. However, this benefit disappeared at high densities when midge consumption of primary producers exceeded their positive effects on primary production through ecosystem engineering. Our results illustrate how ecosystem engineering can alter density‐dependent feedbacks for engineer populations.

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  6. Abstract

    Light is a primary driver of lake ecosystem metabolism, and the dependence of primary production on light is often quantified as a photosynthesis‐irradiance or “P‐I” curve. The parameters of the P‐I curve (e.g., the maximum primary production when light is in excess) can change through time due to a variety of biological factors (e.g., changes in biomass or community composition), which themselves are subject to external drivers (e.g., herbivory or nutrient availability). However, the relative contribution of variation in the P‐I curve to overall ecosystem metabolism is largely unknown. I developed a statistical model of ecosystem metabolism with time‐varying parameters governing the P‐I curve, while also accounting for the influence of temperature. I parameterized the model with dissolved oxygen time series spanning six summers from Lake Mývatn, a shallow eutrophic lake in northern Iceland with large temporal variability in ecosystem metabolism. All of the estimated parameters of the P‐I curve varied substantially through time. The sensitivity of primary production to light under light‐limiting conditions was particularly variable (>15‐fold) and had a compensatory relationship with ambient light levels. However, the 3.5‐fold variation in the maximum potential primary production made the largest contribution to variation in ecosystem metabolism, accounting for around 90% of the variance in net ecosystem production. Much of the variation in maximum primary production was attributable to cyanobacterial blooms, which occur in some but not all years in Mývatn. Overall, these results illustrate how changes in the P‐I curve contribute substantially to temporal variation in lake ecosystem metabolism.

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  7. 1. Intraspecific competition for food may affect the development, survival, and fecundity of organisms. However, environmental variation in abiotic conditions can influence resource quality and/or quantity, thereby modifying the strength of intraspecific competition.

    2. This study focuses on intraspecific competition amongTanytarsus gracilentus(Chironomidae: Diptera) larvae. In Lake Mývatn, Iceland,T. gracilentusundergoes large population fluctuations, and evidence suggests that these fluctuations are governed by consumer‐resource interactions between the larvae and benthic diatoms. In two experiments, we studied (i) the effects of larval density on individual development and survival, and (ii) how light and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) mediate the strength of intraspecific competition across a density gradient.

    3. Survival declined with increasing larval density in both experiments, although not significantly in the first experiment in which we manipulated only density. In the second experiment, enhancement of either light or phosphorus mitigated the negative effect of larval density on survival. In both experiments, density had a negative effect on individual development. In the first experiment, fewer larvae progressed to the final fourth instar at higher densities. In the second experiment, larvae were smaller in high density treatments, and this effect was most pronounced in the treatments without light or phosphorus supplementation.

    4. These results highlight the potential for environmental factors to influence the strength of density‐dependent competition. Environmental variation that affects resource quantity or quality may influence the overall dynamics of our study organism and other populations whose dynamics are controlled by consumer‐resource relationships.

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  8. Abstract

    Understanding how nutrient limitation affects algal biomass and production is a long‐standing interest in aquatic ecology. Nutrients can influence these whole‐community characteristics through several mechanisms, including shifting community composition. Therefore, incorporating the joint responses of biomass, taxonomic composition, and production of algal communities, and relationships among them, is important for understanding effects of nutrient enrichment.

    In shallow subarctic Lake Mývatn, Iceland, benthic algae compose a majority of whole‐lake primary production, support high secondary production, and influence nutrient cycling. Given the importance of these ecosystem processes, the factors that limit benthic algae have a large effect on the function and dynamics of the Mývatn system.

    In a 33‐day nutrient enrichment experiment conducted in Lake Mývatn, we measured the joint responses of benthic algal biomass, primary production, and composition to nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) supplementation. We enriched N and P using nutrient‐diffusing agar overlain by sediment, with three levels of N and P that were crossed in a factorial design.

    We found little evidence of community‐wide nutrient limitation, as chlorophyll‐aconcentrations showed a negligible response to nutrients. Gross primary production (GPP) was unaffected by P and inhibited by N enrichment after 10 days, although the inhibitory effect of N diminished by day 33.

    In contrast to biomass and primary production, community composition was strongly affected by N and marginally affected by P, with some algal groups increasing and others decreasing with enrichment. The taxa with the most negative and positive responses to N enrichment were Fragilariaceae andScenedesmus, respectively.

    The abundances of particular algal groups, based on standardised cell counts, were related toGPPmeasured at the end of the experiment.Oocystiswas negatively associated withGPPbut was unaffected by N or P, while Fragilariaceae andScenedesmuswere positively associated withGPPbut had opposite responses to N. As a result, nutrient‐induced compositional shifts did not alterGPP.

    Overall, our results show that nutrient enrichment can have large effects on algal community composition while having little effect on total biomass and primary production. Our study suggests that nutrient‐driven compositional shifts may not alter the overall ecological function of algal communities if (1) taxa have contrasting responses to nutrient enrichment but have similar effects on ecological processes, and/or (2) taxa that have strong influences on ecological function are not strongly affected by nutrients.

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