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

Jan-Willem Wolters*, Ralf C.M. Verdonschot, Jonas Schoelynck, Natacha Brion, Piet F.M. Verdonschot, Patrick Meire

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-280
JournalAquatic Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2018


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


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