Mesograzers are thought to play a critical role in seagrass beds by preventing overgrowth of ephemeral algae. On the Swedish west coast, eelgrass Zostera marina has decreased in recent decades as a result of eutrophication and increased growth of macroalgal mats (mainly filamentous Ulva spp. and Ectocarpales), with no indication of grazer control of the algae. The aim of this study was to investigate the ability of the amphipod Gammarus locusta to control algal blooms during nutrient-enriched and ambient conditions, using a combination of laboratory, field and model studies. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that juvenile and adult G. locusta could consume both Ulva spp. and Ectocarpales, but that consumption of Ulva spp. was significantly higher. Cannibalism was common in individual treatments involving multiple size-classes of G. locusta, but only large, male gammarids consumed smaller juveniles in the presence of Ulva spp. as an alternative food source. However, no negative effects of cannibalism were found on total grazing impact. A model using size-specific grazing rates and growth rates of G. locusta and of Ulva spp. suggests that approximately 62 young juvenile, or 27 adult G. locusta are needed per gram DW of Ulva spp. to control the algal growth during ambient nutrient conditions, and approximately 2.6 times as many gammarids during enhanced nutrient conditions. On the Swedish west coast, densities and mean sizes of G. locusta in eelgrass beds are below these critical values, suggesting that the gammarids will not be able to control the growth of the filamentous macroalgae. However, in the field cage experiment, immigration of juveniles and reproduction of encaged adult G. locusta resulted in unexpectedly high densities of G. locusta (>4,000 individual m−2), and very low biomass of Ulva spp. in both ambient and nutrient-enriched treatments. Although the high numbers of juveniles in all cages precluded any significant treatment effects, this suggests that in the absent of predators, the population of G. locusta can grow significantly and control the biomass of Ulva spp. Furthermore, low grazing of Ectocarpales in the laboratory and high biomass of these filamentous brown algae in the field indicate a preference for the more palatable green algae Ulva spp. This study indicates that the high grazing capacity of G. locusta, in combination with high reproduction and growth rates, would allow the amphipod to play a key role in Z. marina ecosystems by controlling destructive blooms of filamentous green algae. However, high predation pressure appears to prevent large populations of G. locusta in eelgrass beds on the Swedish west coast today.
Ulva Filamentous Alga Predator Treatment Swedish West Coast Macroalgal Bloom
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We thank Carl Johan Svensson for helpful comments on the modelling part of the study, Kentaroo Tryman and Maj Persson for laboratory assistance and William Thorndyke for English language correction. This research was funded by grants from the Swedish Environmental protection Agency (SEPA contract no. 1-55-03 to S. Baden and 1-58-03 to P-O. Moksnes) within the national project Marine Biodiversity Patterns and Processes (MARBIPP), and from The Swedish Research Council for the Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS contract no. 21.5/2003-0213 to S. Baden). Funds were also provided from “Wåhlströms minnesfond för den Bohusländska havs- och insjömiljön”, and from the University of Gothenburg Marine Research Centre which are gratefully acknowledged.
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