1. The general notion is that negative effects of vertebrate herbivores on water plants, which play a key role in freshwaters, prevail, and that positive feedbacks of herbivores on plants are insignificant.
2. The most likely systems to find such positive feedbacks are those in which herbivores exert strong feeding pressures on plants during part of the year. Previous theoretical work has suggested that compensatory production occurs when migratory Bewick's swans forage on tubers of fennel pondweed. As a corollary, the swans can exploit the tubers down to a level that maximises their tuber yield.
3. In order to test these hypotheses, I measured pondweed tuber biomass on three occasions per year (just before and after foraging, and just before tuber sprouting) in three consecutive years. The 17 sampling sites in the Lauwersmeer (the Netherlands) were classified according to their silt content and water depth. Within four silt-depth classes, I predicted for each year tuber biomass production and, from that, the optimum foraging threshold that would result in the maximum tuber biomass yield.
4. Water depth did not affect tuber production, and silt content only did in one of the 3 years. In accordance with overcompensation predictions, tuber production was higher at plots with moderate foraging pressures than at plots with little or no grazing. However, the winter and summer conditions following the swan foraging had large unpredictable effects on tuber mortality and production.
5. These results indicate that overcompensation by fennel pondweed occurs and that Bewick's swans are generally able to profit from it, albeit without fine-tuning of the foraging threshold to the yield.
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