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Large-scale manipulation of mayfly recruitment affects population size

Abstract

Recruitment establishes the initial size of populations and may influence subsequent population dynamics. Although strong inference can be made from empirical relationships between recruitment and population sizes, a definitive test of recruitment limitation requires manipulating recruitment at relevant spatial and temporal scales. We manipulated oviposition of the mayfly Baetis bicaudatus in multiple streams and measured the abundance of late-stage larvae at the end of the cohort. Based on fundamental knowledge of mayfly behavior, we increased, eliminated, or left unmodified preferred mayfly oviposition sites in 45-m reaches of streams (N = 4) of one high-altitude drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. We compared egg densities before (2001) and after the manipulation (2002) using paired t tests and compared larval densities before and after the manipulation among treatments using repeated measures analysis of variance. This manipulation altered not only egg densities, but also larval abundances 1 year later. Compared to the previous year, we experimentally increased egg densities at the addition sites by approximately fourfold, reduced egg densities to zero in the subtraction sites, and maintained egg densities in the control sites. After the manipulation, larval densities increased significantly by a factor of approximately 2.0 in the addition sites and decreased by a factor of approximately 2.5 in the subtraction sites. This outcome demonstrates that dramatic changes in recruitment can limit larval population size at the scale of a stream reach, potentially masking previously observed post-recruitment processes explaining the patterns of variation in abundance of a stream insect. Furthermore, our results emphasize the importance of preferred oviposition habitats to population sizes of organisms.

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Acknowledgments

Special thanks for help in the field from Maruxa Álvarez, Ben Koch, Matt Harper, Wendy Brown, Brad Taylor, Tracy Smith, Juan Esteban Suárez-Encalada, Bryan Horn, Mark Wallin, and Alison Horn. We are grateful to Chris Fishel, Anthony Panzera, Elizabeth Kramer, Nathan Sanders, and Summer Rayne-Oakes for helping sort insect samples in the laboratory. This paper was improved by discussions with Nelson Hairston, Alex Flecker, Maruxa Álvarez, Brad Taylor, Angus McIntosh, Cole Gilbert, and Esteban Suárez, and by the insightful reviews of Barbara Downes and two anonymous reviewers. This research was supported by funds from National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant DEB-0206095 to ACE and from NSF grant DEB-0089863 and HATCH funds to BLP. ACE was also supported by the Ecuadorian Foundation for Science and Technology (FUNDACYT).

Author information

Correspondence to Andrea C. Encalada.

Additional information

Communicated by Barbara Downes.

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Encalada, A.C., Peckarsky, B.L. Large-scale manipulation of mayfly recruitment affects population size. Oecologia 168, 967–976 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-011-2147-1

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Keywords

  • Ephemeroptera
  • Large-scale experiment
  • Life histories
  • Oviposition behavior
  • Recruitment limitation
  • Streams