Fish-mediated nutrient cycling and benthic microbial processes: can consumers influence stream nutrient cycling at multiple spatial scales?


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Fish-mediated nutrient recycling influences nutrient dynamics in stream ecosystems, but its consequences for smaller-scale microbial processes in benthic habitats are not well understood. We quantified the effect of nutrient recycling by the grazing fish, Campostoma anomalum, on downstream periphyton in 12 flow-through stream mesocosms. We compared periphyton nutrient ratios and algal biomass (as chlorophyll a [chl a]) between tiles upstream and downstream of enclosures with and without fish to measure nutrient-cycling effects in streams with low (11) and high (177) surface-water dissolved N:P molar ratios. No upstream-downstream changes in periphyton nutrient ratios were observed in low N:P streams with or without fish. In high N:P streams, periphyton C:N decreased and C:P and N:P increased on tiles downstream of enclosures. In high N:P streams, downstream changes in periphyton nutrient ratios were greater in streams with than without fish, and chl a significantly increased downstream of enclosures with fish. We linked nutrient-recycling effects to downstream microbial processes by comparing bacterial biomass production (BBP), photosynthesis (PS) rates, and the degree of coupling between the 2 processes on tiles downstream of enclosures. We estimated the degree of coupled production between algae and bacteria downstream of enclosures as the covariance between PS and BBP among replicates within each stream (COVPS-BBP). In high N:P streams, areal BBP and PS rates and COVPS-BBP were higher downstream of enclosures with fish. Chl a and COVPS-BBP declined with increasing periphyton C:N content, resulting in a positive relationship between COVPS-BBP and algal biomass across all treatments. Our results indicate that grazing fish alter stream ecosystem N and P dynamics through consumer-mediated recycling pathways, but downstream responses depend on background nutrient regimes. Fish-mediated changes in nutrient dynamics and algal biomass influence reliance of heterotrophs and autotrophs on nutrients recycled within periphyton communities to support benthic production.
ecosystem function,nutrient ratios,consumer-mediated nutrient recycling,ecological stoichiometry,central stoneroller
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