Fish diversity as a determinant of ecosystem properties across multiple trophic levels

Michael P. Carey, David H Wahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biodiversity has been established as a potential determinant of function in many ecosystems; however, previous research has mostly focused on primary producers and effects at a single trophic level. A broader perspective that considers multiple components of food webs is necessary to understand natural systems. In particular, consumer diversity needs to be more thoroughly examined as trophic interactions and indirect effects can alter ecosystem properties. We test the potential for consumer diversity (fish richness and composition) to govern food web dynamics at two levels of environmental complexity (mesocosms and experimental ponds) and explore the consequences of removing individual species of fish on lower trophic levels. In mesocosms, both the richness and density of zooplankton were reduced when more fish species were present. No effects from the fish treatments were found on phytoplankton, but phosphorus levels increased with higher fish richness. Removing either generalist or specialist fish species increased the richness and density of zooplankton and the amount of phytoplankton, whereas all fish species had redundant effects on nutrients. In ponds, a dominant fish species (specialist shiner) determined the richness and density of zooplankton. In contrast, phytoplankton and nutrients were reduced by higher fish richness in the fall and spring. Overall, the specialist shiner had unique effects on the pond food web suggesting the key to understanding function is the presence of a dominant species and their biological interactions. Differences between mesocosms and ponds are likely due to increased heterogeneity of resources in the ponds allowing species to specialize on different prey. Our study links the biodiversity ecosystem function paradigm with food web concepts to improve predictions for conservation and management actions in response to changes in biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-94
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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