Cross-ecosystem fluxes are ubiquitous in food webs and are generally thought of as subsidies to consumer populations. Yet external or allochthonous inputs may in fact have complex and habitat-specific effects on recipient ecosystems. In lakes, terrestrial inputs of organic carbon contribute to basal resource availability, but can also reduce resource availability via shading effects on phytoplankton and periphyton. Terrestrial inputs might therefore either subsidise or subtract from consumer production. We developed and parameterised a simple model to explore this idea. The model estimates basal resource supply and consumer production given lake-level characteristics including total phosphorus (TP) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration, and consumer-level characteristics including resource preferences and growth efficiencies. Terrestrial inputs diminished primary production and total basal resource supply at the whole-lake level, except in ultra-oligotrophic systems. However, this system-level generalisation masked complex habitat-specific effects. In the pelagic zone, dissolved and particulate terrestrial carbon inputs were available to zooplankton via several food web pathways. Consequently, zooplankton production usually increased with terrestrial inputs, even as total whole-lake resource availability decreased. In contrast, in the benthic zone the dominant, dissolved portion of the terrestrial carbon load had predominantly negative effects on resource availability via shading of periphyton. Consequently, terrestrial inputs always decreased zoobenthic production except under extreme and unrealistic parameterisations of the model. Appreciating the complex and habitat-specific effects of allochthonous inputs may be essential for resolving the effects of cross-habitat fluxes on consumers in lakes and other food webs.
Additional publication details
Subsidy or subtraction: how do terrestrial inputs influence consumer production in lakes?