Recovery and nonrecovery of freshwater food webs from the effects of acidification

Gray, C.; Hildrew, A.G.; Lu, X.; Ma, A.; McElroy, D.; Monteith, D.; O'Gorman, E.; Shilland, E.; Woodward, G.. 2016 Recovery and nonrecovery of freshwater food webs from the effects of acidification. Advances in Ecological Research, 55. 475-534.

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Many previous attempts to understand how ecological networks respond to and recover from environmental stressors have been hindered by poorly resolved and unreplicated food web data. Few studies have assessed how the topological structure of large, replicated collections of food webs recovers from perturbations. We analysed food web data taken from 23 UK freshwaters, sampled repeatedly over 24 years, yielding a collection of 442 stream and lake food webs. Our main goal was to determine the effect of acidity on food web structure and to analyse the way food web structure recovered from the effects of acidity over time. Long-term monotonic reversals of acidification were evident at many of the sites, but the ecological responses were generally far less evident than chemical changes, or absent. Across the acidity gradient, food web linkage density and network efficiency declined with increasing acidity, while node redundancy (i.e. trophic similarity among species within a web) increased. Within individual sites, connectance, linkage density, trophic height, resource vulnerability and network efficiency tended to increase over time as sites recovered from acidification, while consumer generality and node redundancy tended to decrease. There was evidence for a lag in biological recovery, as those sites showing a recovery in both their biology and their chemistry were a nested subset of those which only showed a chemistry trend. These findings support the notion that food web structure is fundamentally altered by acidity, and that inertia within the food web may be hindering biological recovery. This suggestion of lagged recovery highlights the importance of long-term monitoring when assessing the impacts of anthropogenic stressors on the natural world. This temporal dimension, and recognition that species interactions can shape community dynamics, is missing from most national biomonitoring schemes, which often rely on space-for-time proxies.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Parr
ISBN: 9780081009352
ISSN: 0065-2504
Additional Keywords: networks, lakes and streams, restoration, redundancy, monitoring, communities
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 10 Oct 2016 16:32 +0 (UTC)

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