Intraspecific variation in a predator drives cascading variation in primary producer community composition


J. J. Weis, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale Univ., PO Box 208106, New Haven, CT 06520-8106, USA. E-mail:


Predation has important cascading impacts on primary producer biomass and community composition in many ecosystems. While most studies have focused on the consequences of interspecific or density differences in predators, it is recognized that phenotypic variation within species can have strong and cascading community and ecosystem consequences at lower trophic levels. In coastal New England lakes, both the presence and life history form of the zooplanktivorous fish alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus, have strong influence on the biomass, size structure and community composition of crustacean zooplankton communities. Here we test the hypothesis that alewife presence and life history will have cascading impacts on phytoplankton biomass and community composition in a mesocosm experiment that previously reported strong biomass and compositional differences of crustacean zooplankton communities among alewife treatments. We show that alewife life history led to small but statistically significant differences in phytoplankton community composition among treatments. This compositional difference was driven primarily by an increase in the density of two edible phytoplankton genera associated with lower zooplankton biomass in the anadromous alewife treatment. Our results show that intraspecific variation in a predator can have cascading effects on primary producer communities. However we did not observe significant differences in total algal biomass.