Bottom-up and top-down regulation of heterogeneous lake food webs

  • Date:
  • Location: Evolutionsbiologiskt centrum Ekmansalen
  • Doctoral student: Fernando Chaguaceda
  • Organiser: IEG
  • Contact person: Fernando Chaguaceda
  • Disputation

Food webs are networks of organisms linked by trophic interactions that regulate the responses of ecosystems to environmental change. Such regulation is a result of the effects of resources on the abundance of their consumers (i.e. bottom-up effects) and/or the influence of consumers on the abundance of their resources (i.e. top-down effects). Lake food webs comprise pelagic and benthic production pathways and are largely affected by fluxes of resources from/to adjacent terrestrial ecosystems. These pathways are often coupled by mobile generalist consumers, potentially leading to indirect interactions among prey that arise when sharing a predator. In contrast, consumers can also undergo resource specialization that restricts their ability to couple resources at a given time.

In this thesis, I observed that top-down control of predators on benthic and pelagic prey at increasing productivity was highly dependent on apparent mutualism that was driven by switching behaviour of generalist fish. That, in addition to bottom-up responses of benthic pathways at increasing productivity, had important consequences for the fluxes of energy and high quality polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) to terrestrial systems via insect emergence. I also found that PUFAs were highly regulated over the ontogeny of Eurasian perch (Perca fluviatilis). Mismatches with PUFA composition in prey may in turn affect resource specialization and the timing of ontogenetic diet shifts, altering the role of perch in the food web. Finally, browning, which is a phenomenon affecting many temperate and boreal lakes, did not affect bottom-up and top-down control in open-water lake food webs. Instead, browning affected prey selectivity, probably changing the pathways of energy transfer within the open-water food web. Overall, this thesis demonstrates that predictions of food web responses in lake ecosystems and their exports to adjacent terrestrial systems depend on the coupling of different pathways and subsequent indirect interactions among prey through shared predation. This could not be explained by classic food chain theory, but rather by a framework including resource coupling and resource specialization over the ontogeny of consumers. These observations must not be overlooked when constructing a comprehensive model of food webs across time and space.