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Food web complexity affects stoichiometric and trophic interactions


  • Antonia Liess,

  • Jens Olsson,

  • Mario Quevedo,

  • Peter Eklöv,

  • Tobias Vrede,

  • Helmut Hillebrand

A. Liess, J. Olsson, M. Quevedo, P. Eklöv and T. Vrede, Dept of Limnology, Univ. of Uppsala, Norbyvägen 20, SE-75236 Uppsala, Sweden ( – H. Hillebrand, Botanical Inst., Univ. of Cologne, Gyrhofstrasse 15, DE-50931 Köln, Germany.


The stoichiometry of trophic interactions has mainly been studied in simple consumer–prey systems, whereas natural systems often harbour complex food webs with abundant indirect effects. We manipulated the complexity of trophic interactions by using simple laboratory food webs and complex field food webs in enclosures in Lake Erken. In the simple food web, one producer assemblage (periphyton) and its consumers (benthic snails) were amended by perch, which was externally fed by fish food. In the complex food web, two producer assemblages (periphyton and phytoplankton), their consumers (benthic invertebrates and zooplankton) and perch feeding on zooplankton were included. In the simple food web perch affected the stoichiometry of periphyton and increased periphyton biomass and the concentration of dissolved inorganic nitrogen. Grazers reduced periphyton biomass but increased its nutrient content. In the complex food web, in contrast to the simple food web, perch affected periphyton biomass negatively but increased phytoplankton abundance. Perch had no influence on benthic invertebrate density, zooplankton biomass or periphyton stoichiometry. Benthic grazers reduced periphyton biomass and nutrient content. The difference between the simple and the complex food web was presumably due to the increase of pelagic cyanobacteria (Gloeotrichia sp.) with fish presence in the complex food web, thus fish had indirect negative effects on periphyton biomass through nutrient competition and shading by cyanobacteria. We conclude that the higher food web complexity through the presence of pelagic primary producers (in this case Gloeotrichia sp.) influences the direction and strength of trophic and stoichiometric interactions.