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Habitat Structural Complexity Mediates Food Web Dynamics in a Freshwater Macrophyte Community

Danielle M. Warfe and Leon A. Barmuta
Oecologia
Vol. 150, No. 1 (Nov., 2006), pp. 141-154
Published by: Springer in cooperation with International Association for Ecology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40210622
Page Count: 14
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Habitat Structural Complexity Mediates Food Web Dynamics in a Freshwater Macrophyte Community
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Abstract

A considerable amount of research has investigated the influence of habitat structure on predator success, yet few studies have explored the implications for community structure and food- web dynamics. The relative importance of macrophyte structure and fish predation on the composition of the macroinvertebrate and periphyton communities in a lowland river was investigated using a multifactorial caging experiment. We hypothesised that: (1) fish predators are less effective in a more structurally complex macrophyte analogue; (2) strong direct and indirect effects of fish predators (e.g. trophic cascades) are less likely to occur in a structurally complex habitat; and (3) the strength of these patterns is influenced by the composition of the prevailing community assemblage. We measured the abundance and composition of the macroinvertebrate and periphyton communities associated with three different-shaped macrophyte analogues, under different fish predator treatments and at different times. Macrophyte analogue architecture had strong, consistent effects on both the macroinvertebrate and periphyton communities; both were most abundant and diverse on the most structurally complex plant analogue. In contrast, the fish predators affected only a subset of the macroinvertebrate community and there was a suggestion of minor indirect effects on periphyton community composition. Contrary to expectations, the fish predators had their strongest effects in the most structurally complex macrophyte analogue. We conclude that in this system, macrophyte shape strongly regulates the associated freshwater assemblage, resulting in a diverse community structure less likely to exhibit strong effects of fish predation.

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