Trophic Level Stability-Inducing Effects of Predaceous Early Juvenile Fish in an Estuarine Mesocosm Study

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Abstract

Background: Classically, estuarine planktonic research has focussed largely on the physico-chemical drivers of community assemblages leaving a paucity of information on important biological interactions. Methodology/Principal Findings: Within the context of trophic cascades, various treatments using in situ mesocosms were established in a closed estuary to highlight the importance of predation in stabilizing estuarine plankton abundances. Through either the removal (filtration) or addition of certain planktonic groups, five different trophic systems were established. These treatments contained varied numbers of trophic levels and thus different "predators" at the top of the food chain. The abundances of zooplankton (copepod and polychaete), ciliate, micro-flagellate, nano-flagellate and bacteria were investigated in each treatment, over time. The reference treatment containing apex zooplanktivores (early juvenile mullet) and plankton at natural densities mimicked a natural, stable state of an estuary. Proportional variability (PV) and coefficient of variation (CV) of temporal abundances were calculated for each taxon and showed that apex predators in this experimental ecosystem, when compared to the other systems, induced stability. The presence of these predators therefore had consequences for multiple trophic levels, consistent with trophic cascade theory. Conclusions/Significance: PV and CV proved useful indices for comparing stability. Apex predators exerted a stabilizing pressure through feeding on copepods and polychaetes which cascaded through the ciliates, micro-flagellates, nano-flagellates and bacteria. When compared with treatments without apex predators, the role of predation in structuring planktonic communities in closed estuaries was highlighted. © 2013 Wasserman et al.

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Wasserman, R. J., Noyon, M., Avery, T. S., & Froneman, P. W. (2013). Trophic Level Stability-Inducing Effects of Predaceous Early Juvenile Fish in an Estuarine Mesocosm Study. PLoS ONE, 8(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0061019

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