Hydrologic Variability Affects Invertebrate Grazing on Phototrophic Biofilms in Stream Microcosms
The temporal variability of streamflow is known to be a key feature structuring and controlling fluvial ecological communities and ecosystem processes. Although alterations of streamflow regime due to habitat fragmentation or other anthropogenic factors are ubiquitous, a quantitative understanding of their implications on ecosystem structure and function is far from complete. Here, by experimenting with two contrasting flow regimes in stream microcosms, we provide a novel mechanistic explanation for how fluctuating flow regimes may affect grazing of phototrophic biofilms (i.e., periphyton) by an invertebrate species (Ecdyonurus sp.). In both flow regimes light availability was manipulated as a control on autotroph biofilm productivity and grazer activity, thereby allowing the test of flow regime effects across various ratios of biofilm biomass to grazing activity. Average grazing rates were significantly enhanced under variable flow conditions and this effect was highest at intermediate light availability. Our results suggest that stochastic flow regimes, characterised by suitable fluctuations and temporal persistence, may offer increased windows of opportunity for grazing under favourable shear stress conditions. This bears important implications for the development of comprehensive schemes for water resources management and for the understanding of trophic carbon transfer in stream food webs.