Effect of phytoplankton richness on phytoplankton biomass is weak where the distribution of herbivores is patchy

Jerome J. Weis

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3 Scopus citations


Positive effects of competitor species richness on competitor productivity can be more pronounced at a scale that includes heterogeneity in 'bottom-up' environmental factors, such as the supply of limiting nutrients. The effect of species richness is not well understood in landscapes where variation in 'top-down' factors, such as the abundance of predators or herbivores, has a strong influence competitor communities. I asked how phytoplankton species richness directly influenced standing phytoplankton biomass in replicate microcosm regions where one patch had a population of herbivores (Daphnia pulicaria) and one patch did not have herbivores. The effect of phytoplankton richness on standing phytoplankton biomass was positive but weak and not statistically significant at this regional scale. Among no-Daphnia patches, there was a significant positive effect of phytoplankton richness that resulted from positive selection effects for two dominant and productive species in polycultures. Among with-Daphnia patches there was not a significant effect of phytoplankton richness. The same two species dominated species-rich polycultures in no- and with-Daphnia patches but both species were relatively vulnerable to consumption by Daphnia. Consistent with previous studies, this experiment shows a measurable positive influence of primary producer richness on biomass when herbivores were absent. It also shows that given the patchy distribution of herbivores at a regional scale, a regional positive effect was not detected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0156057
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank David Post, David Vasseur, and Os Schmitz for advice designing and reporting this experiment. I thank four anonymous reviewers for comments that improved this manuscript. I thank Derek West and Torrance Hanley for methodological advice and help conducting the experiment. I also thank Andrew Jones, Jason Shapiro, and John Park for help with sampling. Funding for this experiment was provided by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Lee Pierce fund. Additional funding and support was provided by Yale University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Jerome J. Weis. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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