Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp 269–280 | Cite as

Stable isotope measurements confirm consumption of submerged macrophytes by macroinvertebrate and fish taxa

  • Jan-Willem WoltersEmail author
  • Ralf C. M. Verdonschot
  • Jonas Schoelynck
  • Natacha Brion
  • Piet F. M. Verdonschot
  • Patrick Meire


Many macrophyte species in lowland streams exhibit signs of grazing and herbivore damage, even though herbivory by aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish is generally considered to be of little importance. In this study, we collected evidence for the hypothesis that herbivory on macrophytes by macroinvertebrates and fish is more widespread than assumed. We measured the dual stable isotope signatures (δ13C and δ15N) of organic matter, epiphyton, submerged macrophytes, macroinvertebrates and fish in a Belgian lowland stream. There was a clear distinction in isotopic signatures of the different basal resources, allowing the use of the SIAR mixing model. These calculations revealed the consumption of macrophyte tissue not only by the phytophagous larvae of Nymphula nitidulata Hufnagel (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), but also by Baetidae nymphs (Ephemeroptera), Orthocladiinae larvae (Diptera: Chironomidae), the crayfish Orconectus limosus Rafinesque (Decapoda: Cambaridae) and the fish Gobio gobio L. (Cypriniformes: Cyprinidae) which are classified as feeding on other resources. Although the potential share of macrophyte biomass in the diet of macroinvertebrates and fish was demonstrated to be up to 49%, this amount is only a small percentage of the total standing macrophyte biomass in a lowland stream. However, the impact of this herbivory may still be substantial because consumption may comprise a significant fraction of the daily primary production. Additionally, small-scale herbivory may still have a negative impact on macrophyte growth and survival, for example through consumption of apical meristems and the increased susceptibility to diseases and toxins if the macrophyte’s epidermis is damaged.


Aquatic food web Stable isotope mixing model Epiphytic algae Generalist feeding strategy Temperate lowland stream 



Our thanks go to Laurence Miserez (University of Antwerp) for her overall contribution to the research, to Dimitri for Pelt (University of Antwerp) for field assistance, to David Verstraeten (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) for his support with the isotope measurements and to Annieke Borst (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands) for her help with the mixing model analyses. The first author would like to thank the Biology Department of the University of Antwerp for providing a doctoral grant. Jonas Schoelynck is a postdoctoral fellow of FWO (Project No. 12H8616N). Furthermore, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers, whose comments have significantly improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, Ecosystem Management Research GroupUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium
  2. 2.Wageningen Environmental ResearchWageningen University and ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Analytical and Environmental GeochemistryBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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