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Keywords:

  • benthic algae;
  • experimental design;
  • grazer biomass;
  • grazing;
  • meta-analysis;
  • temperature

Grazer control of periphyton biomass has been addressed in numerous experimental studies in all kinds of aquatic habitats. In this meta-analysis, the results of 865 experiments are quantitatively synthesized in order to address the following questions: (i) Do lotic, lentic, and marine ecosystems differ in their degree of grazer control of periphyton biomass? (ii) Which environmental variables affect the degree of grazer control? (iii) How much does the result of these experiments depend on facets of experimental design? Across all ecosystems, the grazers removed on average 59% of the periphyton biomass, with grazing being significantly stronger for laboratory (65%) than for field (56%) experiments. Neither field nor lab experiments showed a significant difference among lotic, lentic, and coastal habitats. Among different taxonomic consumer groups, crustaceans (amphipods and isopods) and trichopteran larvae removed the highest proportion of periphyton biomass. Grazer effects increased with increasing algal biomass, with decreasing resource availability and with increasing temperature, especially in field experiments. Grazer effects also increased with increasing total grazer biomass in field experiments but showed the opposite trend in lab experiments, indicating a tendency toward overcrowded lab experiments. Other aspects of experimental design, such as cage type, size, and duration of the study, strongly affected the outcome of the experiments, suggesting that much care has to be placed on the choice of experimental design.