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Pronounced species turnover, but no functional equivalence in leaf consumption of invasive amphipods in the river Rhine

Jourdan, Jonas, Westerwald, Benjamin, Kiechle, Antonia, Chen, Wei, Streit, Bruno, Klaus, Sebastian, Oetken, Matthias, Plath, Martin
Biological invasions 2016 v.18 no.3 pp. 763-774
Alnus glutinosa, Betula pendula, Dikerogammarus villosus, Echinogammarus ischnus, Gammarus fossarum, Quercus robur, aquatic food webs, detritivores, drainage, ecological invasion, ecosystem services, energy flow, food choices, freshwater ecosystems, leaves, metabolism, plant litter, rivers, species diversity, streams, vegetation
A growing body of literature focuses on the adverse effects of biological invasions, e.g., on the decline of indigenous biodiversity, while studies on the consequences of invasions on components of ecosystem functioning are comparatively rare. Owing to their leaf shredding activity, amphipods play a fundamental role in determining energy flow dynamics in Central European freshwater ecosystems, but whether the dramatic change in species composition after the invasion of Ponto–Caspian taxa affects this process has not been addressed in a comprehensive study. In a laboratory experiment we determined consumption rates of three leaf types (Alnus glutinosa, Betula pendula, Quercus robur) from common riparian arboreal vegetation in the Rhine drainage—one of the most heavily invaded river systems worldwide—by the most common native (Gammarus fossarum, G. pulex, G. roeselii) and invasive amphipods (Dikerogammarus villosus, Echinogammarus ischnus). Leaf-shredding activity was significantly lower in invasive than in native amphipods across leaf types, and a subsequent analysis ruled out an effect of different metabolic rates as an explanation. Another experiment was motivated by the observation that native amphipods are nowadays restricted to smaller tributaries to the Rhine, while invasive taxa are dominant in the main channel. As leaf litter shredding may be more important in headwaters than in lower parts of streams, we sought for a signature of within-species variation in the feeding ecology of amphipods and thus compared two different populations of G. pulex, but found very similar leaf consumption rates in upstream and downstream populations, suggesting that food preferences in amphipods could be species-specific with little potential for microevolution or environmentally induced plasticity. In conclusion, the rapid replacement of native amphipod species in the Rhine drainage likely affects vital ecosystem services, with the potential to change the aquatic food web (e.g., through reduced shredding activity and hence, reduced resource availability for particle-feeding detritivores), unless other taxonomic groups compensate for those functional alterations.