Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Steiner, C.F. and A.H. Roy. 2003. Seasonal succession in fishless ponds: effects of enrichment and invertebrate predators on zooplankton community structure. Hydrobiologia 490: 125-134.


Size-selective predation by fish is often considered to be a primary driver of seasonal declines in large-bodied Daphnia populations. However, large Daphnia commonly exhibit midsummer extinctions in ponds lacking planktivorous fish. A number of empirical and theoretical studies suggest that resource competition and its interaction with nutrient enrichment may determine variable dominance by large Daphnia. Low resource levels may favor competitive dominance by small-bodied taxa while large Daphnia may be favored under high resource conditions or following a nutrient/productivity pulse. Nutrient enrichment may also influence the strength of invertebrate predation on Daphnia by affecting how long vulnerable juveniles are exposed to predation. We investigated these hypotheses using an in situ mesocosm experiment in a permanent fishless pond that exhibited seasonal losses of Daphnia pulex. To explore the effects of nutrient enrichment, Daphnia plus a diverse assemblage of small-bodied zooplankton were exposed to three levels of enrichment (low, medium, and high). To explore the interaction between nutrient enrichment and invertebrate predation, we crossed the presence/absence of Notonecta undulata with low and high nutrient manipulations. We found no evidence of competitive reversals or shifts in dominance among nutrient levels, Daphnia performed poorly regardless of enrichment. This may have been due to shifts in algal composition to dominance by large filamentous green algae. Notonecta had significant negative effects on Daphnia alone, but no interaction with nutrient enrichment was detected. These results suggest that Daphnia are not invariably superior resource competitors compared to small taxa. Though predators can have negative effects, their presence is not necessary to explain poor Daphnia performance. Rather, abiotic conditions and/or resource-based effects are probably of greater importance.