Mussels can both outweigh and interact with the effects of terrestrial to freshwater resource subsidies on littoral benthic communities.

12 Feb 2018

Litterfall is an important resource subsidy for lake ecosystems that primarily accumulates in littoral zones. Bivalves are abundant within littoral zones and may modify the effects of terrestrial resource subsidies through trophic interactions and engineering their surrounding habitat. Leaf inputs to lakes and freshwater mussel abundances are changing throughout the boreal ecoregion so we set out to investigate how the co-occurring benthic community might respond. We set up an in situ mesocosm experiment in Ramsey Lake, Sudbury, ON, Canada. Mesocosms contained sediments of either 5% or 35% terrestrial organic matter (tOM), into which we placed mussels (Elliptio complanata) at differing densities (0, 0.4 and 2musselsm-2, with a sham mussel treatment at 0.4musselsm-2). Over one month we recorded the sediment chemistry (dissolved organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus), littoral organisms (benthic algae and zooplankton) and mussel growth. At high mussel densities we recorded a 90%, 80%, 45% and 40% reduction in phosphorus, dissolved organic carbon, nitrogen and benthic diatoms, respectively, whereas at low mussel densities we observed a 3-fold increase in zooplankton. We discuss that these results were caused by a combination of bioturbation and trophic interactions. Benthic diatom concentrations were also reduced by 20% in sediments of 35% tOM, likely due to shading and competition with bacteria. Mussel growth increased at high mussel densities but was offset at high tOM, likely due to the organic matter interfering with filter feeding. Our results suggest that mussels can alter the geochemical composition of sediments and abundances of associated littoral organisms, in some cases regardless of tOM quantity. Therefore, the dominant top-down control exerted by freshwater mussels may outweigh bottom-up effects of tOM additions. Generally, our study reveals the importance of considering dominant species when studying the effects of cross-ecosystem resource fluxes.