Does light intensity modify the effect mayfly grazers have on periphyton?
1. A factorial experiment was conducted in artificial outdoor streams to quantify the effects of irradiance (two levels) and two mayfly grazers (four densities of each) on periphytic community structure. The may flies were Ecdyonurus venosus (Heptageniidae), a grazer using brushing mouthparts, and Baetis spp. (Baetidae) a grazer which uses mandibles and maxilla to scrape and gather periphyton. The experiment ran for 16 days.
2. Grazer densities in channels approximated those existing in a shoreline habitat in the River Sihl, Switzerland. Light treatments were natural (daily mean = 810 μmol m-2 s-1) and shaded (daily mean = 286 μmol m-2 s-1).
3. Higher irradiance increased total algal abundance by a factor of 4. Algae most affected were prostrate/motile and erect diatoms, filamentous chlorophytes and Hydrurus foetidus.
4. Both species of mayfly reduced periphytic and algal biomass. Mayfly-mayfly interactions, however, were associated with statistical increases in algal biovolume and chlorophyll-a content, indicating that the two grazers may have interfered with one another as their densities increased. The mayfly-mayfly interaction did not influence periphytic ash-free dry mass (AFDM). Light modified the influence of Ecdyonurus such that this mayfly produced greater reductions in algal biovolume under high irradiance.
5. Despite efforts to exclude other grazers, chironomids colonized experimental channels. Chironomid biomass was approximately eight times less than mayflies across treatments and was positively correlated with all measures of periphytic abundance, suggesting that these grazers were responding to periphyton rather than controlling it. Chironomids were also associated with an increase in the abundance of diatoms having a prostrate/motile physiognomy. The only physiognomy to show a negative relationship with chironomid biomass was the thallus type, a form which comprised less than 1% of the algal biovolume across channels.
6. Ecdyonurus and Baetis had distinct influences on algal physiognomy. Ecdyonurus, for example, reduced adnate, stalked and Achnanthes-type physiognomies, but was associated with a significant increase in the abundance of filamentous chlorophytes (primarily Ulothrix sp.). Baetis reduced erect, Achnanthes-type and thallus physiognomies. Neither mayfly influenced the abundance of prostrate/motile diatoms; a physiognomy that comprised 21% of the algae in channels.
7. Light and mayfly interactions affected algal community structure. The interaction of Ecdyonurus with light had a negative effect on erect diatoms, filamentous chlorophytes and the thallus physiognomy, but a positive effect on stalked and Achnanthes-type physiognomies. Baetis interacting with light had a positive effect on adnate diatoms.
8. Although both mayfly taxa influenced periphytic community structure, physiognomy was not a good predictor of algal susceptibility to grazing. The type of substratum to which an alga is attached (detritus or algal filaments vs hard surfaces) and location within the periphytic matrix may be better indicators of vulnerabilty to grazing than physiognomy.