Macrophyte-specific effects on epiphyton quality and quantity and resulting effects on grazing macroinvertebrates

Jan Willem Wolters*, Rosanne E. Reitsema, Ralf C.M. Verdonschot, Jonas Schoelynck, Piet F.M. Verdonschot, Patrick Meire

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Aquatic macrophytes can have a significant impact on their associated community of epiphytic algae and bacteria through the provisioning of structural habitat complexity through different growth forms, the exudation of nutrients and the release of allelochemicals. In turn, this effect on epiphytic biofilm biomass and nutrient content has a potential effect on the macroinvertebrates that depend on epiphyton as a food source. We studied the effect of living macrophytes and their growth form on biofilm development in a semi-controlled replicated microcosm experiment. Conditions of a nutrient-poor water layer and nutrient-rich sediment were created to study the effects of nutrient exudation by living macrophytes. We compared biofilm quantity and quality on structurally simple (Vallisneria spiralis) versus complex (Egeria densa) living plants and artificial analogues. Subsequently, the biofilm that had developed on the plants was fed, in a laboratory growth experiment, to two species of macroinvertebrate grazers (the snail Haitia acuta and the mayfly nymph Cloeon dipterum). This enabled us to assess if and how the macrophyte-induced effects on the epiphyton can influence macroinvertebrate grazers. Living macrophytes were found to have a significant effect on epiphytic algal cover, which was mostly expressed by a lower cover on living macrophytes compared to their artificial analogues. Additionally, epiphyton cover on artificial macrophytes was found to be higher on complex structures compared to simple ones, yet this was not observed on living macrophytes. Plant specific traits, such as the release of allelopathic substances, competition for nutrients and DIC, and the amount of CaCO 3 deposition on plant surfaces might explain these results. The density of epiphytic bacteria was found to be negatively correlated with biofilm Ca content from macrophytes in every treatment except living E. densa, which differed in leaf anatomy from the other plants by possessing polar leaves. Furthermore, biofilm on living macrophytes had lower C:N:P molar ratios compared to that on artificial plants, which is likely to be explained by nutrient exudation by the living plants. Although it was expected that a more nutritious biofilm would lead to increased grazer growth, this was observed only for H. acuta on E. densa. Because biofilm quantity was not a limiting factor, this lack of effect may be caused by compensatory feeding. It can be concluded that, depending on their traits, living macrophytes can have a positive effect on macroinvertebrate grazers by providing a large surface area for colonisation by epiphytic algae and bacteria, by improving biofilm stoichiometry and by stimulating bacterial growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1142
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2019


  • allelopathy
  • epiphytic algae
  • nutrient exudation
  • nutrient stoichiometry
  • phytomacrofauna


Dive into the research topics of 'Macrophyte-specific effects on epiphyton quality and quantity and resulting effects on grazing macroinvertebrates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this