Defining the role of floating periphyton mats in shaping food-web dynamics in the Florida Everglades

Shawn Elizabeth Smith, Florida International University


Expansive periphyton mats are a striking characteristic of the Florida Everglades. Floating periphyton mats are home to a diverse macroinvertebrate community dominated by chironomid and ceratopogonid larvae and amphipods that use the mat as both a food resource and refuge from predation. While this periphyton complex functions as a self-organizing system, it also serves as a base for trophic interactions with larger organisms. The purpose of my research was to quantify variation in the macroinvertebrate community inhabiting floating periphyton mats, describe the role of mats in shaping food-web dynamics, and describe how these trophic interactions change with eutrophication. I characterized the macroinvertebrate community inhabiting periphyton through a wet-season by describing spatial variation on scales from 0.2 m to 3 km. Floating periphyton mats contained a diverse macroinvertebrate community, with greater taxonomic richness and higher densities of many taxa than adjacent microhabitats. Macroinvertebrate density increased through the wet season as periphyton mats developed. While some variation was noted among sites, spatial patterns were not observed on smaller scales. I also sampled ten sites representing gradients of hydroperiod and nutrient (P) levels. The density of macroinvertebrates inhabiting periphyton mats increased with increasing P availability; however, short-hydroperiod P-enriched sites had the highest macroinvertebrate density. This pattern suggests a synergistic interaction of top-down and bottom-up effects. In contrast, macroinvertebrate density was lower in benthic floc, where it was negatively correlated with hydroperiod. I used two types of mesocosms (field cages and tanks) to manipulate large consumers (fish and grass shrimp) with inclusion/exclusion cages over an experimental P gradient. In most cases, periphyton mats served as an effective predation refuge. Macroinvertebrates were consumed more frequently in P-enriched treatments, where mats were also heavily grazed. Macroinvertebrate densities decreased with increasing P in benthic floc, but increased with enrichment in periphyton mats until levels were reached that caused disassociation of the mat. This research documents several indirect trophic interactions that can occur in complex habitats, and emphasizes the need to characterize dynamics of all microhabitats to fully describe the dynamics of an ecosystem.

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Recommended Citation

Smith, Shawn Elizabeth, "Defining the role of floating periphyton mats in shaping food-web dynamics in the Florida Everglades" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3165162.