1. Algal growth in lotic systems is controlled either from the bottom-up (e.g. nutrients and light, which determine growth rates) or from the top-down (e.g. grazing pressure, which reduces accumulated biomass). Nutrient-enriched streams that support large and diverse grazing macroinvertebrate populations and those with shaded riparian corridors rarely suffer from excessive algal growth.
2. In this study, the density of benthic algivorous macroinvertebrates was experimentally manipulated in shaded and open nutrient-enriched stream habitats of the Owennagearagh River, south-west Ireland. The ability of macroinvertebrate grazers and riparian shade to control benthic algal growth [particularly the nuisance alga, Cladophora glomerata (L. Kütz)] was investigated. Three sites with markedly different concentrations of plant nutrients (one site upstream and two sites downstream of the sewage outfall) were selected. The density of grazing invertebrates colonising ceramic tiles was reduced using high-voltage localised electric pulses. Replicates of treatment (grazer-excluded) and control (grazed) tiles were deployed in open and shaded (<25 and >80% canopy cover, respectively) patches of stream bed, in each site.
3. After 2-week Cladophora cover, periphytic chlorophyll a and biofilm ash-free dry mass (AFDM) were quantified for all experimental tiles. Values for all three parameters were highest on grazer-excluded tiles from open patches. Grazed tiles from open patches accrued little Cladophora and had significantly lower levels of chlorophyll a and AFDM. Nutrient inputs were found to have an impact on the density of grazing invertebrates, with higher densities of Baetis nymphs at the most nutrient-enriched site.
4. Our results demonstrate that in eutrophic, high-light streams, filamentous algae can quickly accumulate to nuisance levels in the absence of invertebrate grazers. In future, greater attention should be paid to the role of grazing invertebrates in controlling nuisance algae in streams, in addition to algal–nutrient relationships.