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Land use alters trophic redundancy and resource flow through stream food webs

Price, Elliott L., Sertić Perić, Mirela, Romero, Gustavo Q., Kratina, Pavel
The journal of animal ecology 2019 v.88 no.5 pp. 677-689
agricultural runoff, aquatic food webs, ecological footprint, ecosystems, energy flow, functional properties, land use, macroinvertebrates, macrophytes, nutrients, pollution, pollution control, predators, riparian vegetation, stable isotopes, statistical models, streams, trophic levels, urban areas, variance, woodlands, Croatia
The changes to physical and chemical ecosystem characteristics as a response to pervasive and intensifying land use have the potential to alter the consumer–resource interactions and to rewire the flow of energy through entire food webs. We investigated these structural and functional properties of food webs in stream ecosystems distributed across woodland, agricultural and urban areas in the Zagreb region of Croatia. We compared resource availability and consumer diet composition using stable isotope mixing models and tested how the isotopic variance of basal resources, primary consumers, macroinvertebrate predators and other food web characteristics change with different land‐use types. Combination of increased loading and altered composition of nutrients, lower water discharge and higher light availability at urban sites likely promoted the contribution of aquatic macrophytes to diets of primary consumers. Macroinvertebrate predators shifted their diet, relying more on active filterers at urban sites relative to woodland and agricultural sites. Urban food webs also had lower trophic redundancy (i.e. fewer species at each trophic level) and a more homogenized energy flow from lower to higher trophic levels. There was no effect of land use on isotopic variation of basal resources, primary consumers or macroinvertebrate predators, but all these trophic groups at urban and agricultural sites were ¹⁵N‐enriched relative to their counterparts in woodland stream food webs. The physical and chemical ecosystem characteristics associated with intensive land use altered the resource availability, trophic redundancy and the flow of energy to other trophic levels, with potentially negative consequences for community dynamics and ecosystem functioning. These empirical findings indicate that reducing nutrient pollution, agricultural runoffs and maintaining riparian vegetation can mitigate the impacts of land use on structure and function of stream ecosystems.