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Changes in food characteristics reveal indirect effects of lake browning on zooplankton performance

Minguez, Laetitia; Sperfeld, Erik; Berger, Stella A.; Nejstgaard, Jens C.; Gessner, Mark O.

Browning caused by colored dissolved organic matter is predicted to have large effects on aquatic ecosystems. However, there is limited experimental evidence about direct and indirect effects of browning on zooplankton in complex field settings. We used a combination of an ecosystem‐scale enclosure experiment and laboratory incubations to test how prolonged browning affects physiological and life‐history traits of the water flea Daphnia longispina, a key species in lake food webs, and whether any such effects are reversible. Daphnids and water were collected from enclosures in a deep clear‐water lake, where the natural plankton community had been exposed for 10 weeks to browning or to control conditions in clear water. Daphnid abundance was much lower in the brown than in the clear enclosure. Surprisingly, however, daphnids continuously kept in brown enclosure water in the laboratory showed increased metabolic performance and survival, and also produced more offspring than daphnids kept in clear enclosure water. This outcome was related to more and higher‐quality seston in brown compared to clear water. Moreover, daphnids transferred from clear to brown water or vice versa adjusted their nucleic acid and protein contents, as indicators of physiological state, to similar levels as individuals previously exposed to the respective recipient environment, indicating immediate and reversible browning effects on metabolic performance. These results demonstrate the importance of conducting experiments in settings that capture both indirect effects (i.e., emerging from species interactions in communities) and direct effects on individuals for assessing impacts of browning and other environmental changes on lakes.
Published in: Limnology and Oceanography, 10.1002/lno.11367, Wiley