Bottom-up Ecological Processes Better For Clear Waters, Study Finds

om-up processes had a greater impact on algae growth than the top-down processes.

"Both played a role, but nutrients had a bigger impact on algal biomass," Brett said.

The science meta-analysis paper by Brett and Goldman also casts doubt upon the universal nature of a popular model developed by Lauri Oksanen, a theoretical ecologist at the University of Umeå in northern Sweden. The model predicts that food webs will respond to increased growth at the plant level, such as algae, in different ways depending upon the number of levels in the food web.

In the experiments summarized in the UC Davis analysis in Science, the response of phytoplankton and zooplankton to adding nutrients was not related to the number of trophic levels in the system, Brett said. In food webs with two levels (plants and herbivores), Oksanen's model predicts that increased plant production will fuel growth of herbivores to the extent that the plant eaters munch all the extra food, resulting in no net gain at the plant level.

In food webs with three levels (plants, herbivores and predators), Oksanen's model predicts that increased plant production will result in more predators and plants, but fewer herbivores, because the predators will eat all the extra herbivores, allowing the plants to grow and thrive.

The UC Davis researchers found opposite results from the model predictions for the two-level food webs. "The crux of the model is that the number of levels determines how energy moves through the food web, and we found the response was not related to the number of trophic levels," Brett said.

Some of the most important unanswered questions in food web ecology still remain, according to Brett and Goldman. What determines how fast and how much energy moves through food webs? How can lakes or oceans with similar algae production vary so dramatically in fisheries production?


Contact: Carol Morton
University of California - Davis

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