Biological Responses of a Tundra River to Fertilization
Phosphorous fertilization of a pristine tundra river for four consecutive summers dramatically changed biological processes and populations at all trophic levels. At the primary producer level, both algal biomass and productivity increased and cholorophyll accumulated on the river bottom in the first two summers. Diatom community composition changed little in spite of large chorophyll changes. However, an increase in grazing insects prevented chlorophyll buildup in the third and fourth summers. Some microbial processes were also stimulated by the increased photosynthesis caused by fertilization. Total respiration of the epilithon, acetate uptake, and decomposition of lignin monomers were all stimulated but only in light-grown epilithon. When epilithon was grown in the dark in the fertilized region of the river, there was no increased respiration. Also, phosphorous did not stimulate the decompostition of Carex litter. Although insects grew more rapidly in the fertilized section of the river, there were community interactions that kept total insect production from appreciable change. The four most abundant large insects did increase their growth rates in response to phosphorus addition and there were increases in populations of Baetis lapponicus and Brachycentrus americanus. These increases were offset by the decline in abundance of the dominant species, the black fly Prosimulium martini, perhaps caused by competition for space from Brachycentrus. Growth of both young-of-the-year and adult grayling (Thymallus arcticus) was strongly stimulated by phosphorus addition in years 3 and 4 (not tested in years 1 and 2). Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope tracers indicated that the measured increases in insect and fish growth were largely attributable to increases in the production of epilithic algae. Overall, the results indicate a strong @'bottom-up@' response of the riverine food web to additions of the limiting nutrient, phosphorus. The response was modified in later years, however, by a strong @'top-down@' feedback of insects grazing on epilithic algae and by competitive exclusion of black flies caddisflies.
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