Competition between isoetids and invading elodeids at different concentrations of aquatic carbon dioxide


Peter Spierenburg, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Heyendaalseweg 135, 6525 AJ, The Netherlands. E-mail:


1. The growth of submerged macrophytes in softwater lakes is often assumed to be carbon limited. Isoetid species are well adapted to grow at low carbon availability and therefore commonly dominate the submerged macrophyte vegetation in softwater lakes. In many such lakes, however, large-scale invasions of fast-growing elodeid species, replacing the isoetid vegetation, have been observed.

2. In a laboratory experiment, we tested how rising aquatic carbon availability, in interaction with different densities of the isoetid Littorella uniflora, affected the growth (and thereby the potential invasion success) of the elodeid Myriophyllum alterniflorum. For this purpose, the growth of M. alterniflorum was determined at a combination of three concentrations of dissolved CO2 (15, 90, 200 μmol L−1) and three densities of L. uniflora (0, 553, 1775 plants m−2).

3. At an ambient CO2 of 15 μmol L−1, M. alterniflorum could not sustain itself, whereas at raised CO2 concentrations, growth became positive and increased with higher CO2 availability.

4. The presence of L. uniflora, independent of its density, reduced the growth of M. alterniflorum by 50%. Whether this is related to nutrient availability or other factors is not clear.

5. Despite the growth reduction of M. alterniflorum by L. uniflora, at CO2 ≥90 μmol L−1, L. uniflora was still overgrown by M. alterniflorum. This may imply that, in field situations, M. alterniflorum can invade softwater systems with relatively high CO2 availability, even in the presence of dense stands of L. uniflora.