Effects of Multi-chain Omnivory on the Strength of Trophic Control in Lakes

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Omnivory has been implicated in both diffusing and intensifying the effects of consumer control in food chains. Some have postulated that the strong, community level, top-down control apparent in lakes is not expressed in terrestrial systems because terrestrial food webs are reticulate, with high degrees of omnivory and diverse plant communities. In contrast, lake food webs are depicted as simple linear chains based on phytoplankton-derived energy. Here, we explore the dynamic implications of recent evidence showing that attached algal (periphyton) carbon contributes substantially to lake primary and secondary productivity, including fish production. Periphyton production represents a cryptic energy source in oligotrophic and mesotrophic lakes that is overlooked by previous theoretical treatment of trophic control in lakes. Literature data demonstrate that many fish are multi-chain omnivores, exploiting food chains based on both littoral and pelagic primary producers. Using consumer-resource models, we examine how multiple food chains affect fourth-level trophic control across nutrient gradients in lakes. The models predict that the stabilizing effects of linked food chains are strongest in lakes where both phytoplankton and periphyton contribute substantially to production of higher trophic levels. This stabilization enables a strong and persistent top down control on the pelagic food chain in mesotrophic lakes. The extension of classical trophic cascade theory to incorporate more complex food web structures driven by multi-chain predators provides a conceptual framework for analysis of reticulate food webs in ecosystems.



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