No free lunch: displaced marsh consumers regulate a prey subsidy to an estuarine consumer

Authors


R. E. Boucek, Dept of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Florida International Univ., Miami, FL 33139, USA. E-mail: rbouc003@fiu.edu

Abstract

Pulse subsidies account for a substantial proportion of resource availability in many systems, having persistent and cascading effects on consumer population dynamics, and energy flow within and across ecosystem boundaries. Although the importance of pulsed resource subsidies is well-established, the mechanisms that regulate resource fluxes across ecosystem boundaries are not well understood. The aim of our study was to determine the extent that marsh consumers regulated a marsh prey subsidy to estuarine consumers in the oligohaline reaches of an Everglades estuary. We characterized a marsh pulsed subsidy of cyprinodontoid, invertebrate and sunfish prey that move into the upper estuary from adjacent drying marshes. In response to the prey pulse, we examined the numerical, fitness and dietary responses of three focal consumers in the upper estuary; two marsh species (largemouth bass and bowfin) that accompanied the subsidy as a result of marsh drying, and one estuarine consumer (snook). At the onset of marsh drying and the prey subsidy, estuarine consumers switched diets to consume the larger marsh prey (sunfishes), while bass and bowfin maintained similar diets (cyprinodontoids and invertebrates respectively) than pre and post subsidy. From the consumption of this subsidy, bass (marsh species) and snook (estuarine species) exhibited fitness gains while bowfin did not. Although both marsh and estuarine consumers benefitted from the subsidy, we found evidence that freshwater consumers shunted some of the subsidy away from snook. Of the prey sampled in consumer stomachs, 41% of marsh prey biomass was eaten by marsh consumers, while 59% was consumed by the estuarine consumer. We conclude that the amount of the marsh prey available to estuarine consumers may be greater in the absence of marsh consumers, thus the magnitude of the prey subsidy could depend on the dynamics of the marsh consumers from donor communities.

Ancillary