Current-mediated periphytic structure modifies grazer interactions and algal removal

Todd Wellnitz, LeRoy POFF

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


By shaping the architecture and taxonomic composition of periphyton, stream current may create periphytic mats on which some grazers can feed and forage more effectively than others. Current-mediated periphytic structure also has the potential to foster positive interactions among grazers if one grazer’s foraging facilitates another’s access to algal food. To examine the extent to which these indirect effects of current influenced periphytic removal and grazer interactions, we conducted a mesocosm experiment with two common grazers, the caddisfly (Trichoptera) Glossosoma verdona and the mayfly (Ephemeroptera) Drunella grandis. Periphyton was allowed to colonize ungrazed tiles for 30 d and assume its natural growth form under three ranges of near-bed current, “slow” (1–5 cm s−1), “medium” (15–20 cm s−1), and “fast” (30–40 cm s−1). Tiles were then exposed to the two grazer species at five densities. A streambed survey quantified Glossosoma and Drunella distributions in relation to near-bed current and periphytic structure (i.e., diatom films vs. filamentous mats) in the Colorado River. After 22 days of grazing, periphytic removal by Glossosoma was influenced by near-bed current and attendant periphytic structure. In slow current, where senescent Ulothrix filaments were abundant, increased Glossosoma density was correlated with an increase in periphyton biomass. Larvae became entangled and immobilized by the diffuse and senescent Ulothrix mat that characterized slow velocity, and Glossosoma mortality and weight loss was greatest in this treatment. By contrast, Drunella reduced periphyton across all density and current treatments. Drunella density correlated with increased Glossosoma survivorship and weight gain in slow current. The driving mechanism for this facilitation appeared to be removal of entangling overstory filaments by Drunella. The streambed survey showed that Glossosoma were negatively associated with filamentous mats, lending support to the hypothesis that clearing action by Drunella in the slow current/senescent Ulothrix treatment facilitated Glossosoma growth and survival. Our study helps underscore the importance of evaluating species interactions over ranges of abiotic conditions and consumer pressure to understand the patterns and processes shaping benthic communities.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)521-530
Number of pages10
JournalAquatic Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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