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Food web interactions determine energy transfer efficiency and top consumer responses to inputs of dissolved organic carbon

R. Degerman, R. Lefébure, P. Byström, U. Båmstedt, S. Larsson, A. Andersson
Hydrobiologia 2018 v.805 no.1 pp. 131-146
climate change, dissolved organic carbon, energy transfer, fish, fish production, phytoplankton, planktivores, trophic levels, zooplankton, Northern European region
Climate change projections indicate increased precipitation in northern Europe, leading to increased inflow of allochthonous organic matter to aquatic systems. The food web responses are poorly known, and may differ depending on the trophic structure. We performed an experimental mesocosm study where effects of labile dissolved organic carbon (DOC) on two different pelagic food webs were investigated, one having zooplankton as highest trophic level and the other with planktivorous fish as top consumer. In both food webs, DOC caused higher bacterial production and lower food web efficiency, i.e., energy transfer efficiency from the base to the top of the food web. However, the top-level response to DOC addition differed in the zooplankton and the fish systems. The zooplankton production increased due to efficient channeling of energy via both the bacterial and the phytoplankton pathway, while the fish production decreased due to channeling of energy mainly via the longer and less efficient bacterial pathway. We conclude that the added DOC either acted as a subsidy by increasing the production of the top trophic level (mesozooplankton), or as a sink causing decreased top consumer production (planktivorous fish).