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Strong vertical differences in the plankton composition of an extremely acidic lake

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Vertical differences in food web structure were examined in an extremely acidic, iron-rich mining lake in Germany (Lake 111; pH 2.6, total Fe 150 mg L–1) during the period of stratification. We tested whether or not the seasonal variation of the plankton composition is less pronounced than the differences observed over depth. The lake was strongly stratified in summer, and concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and inorganic carbon were consistently low in the epilimnion but high in the hypolimnion. Oxygen concentrations declined in the hypolimnion but were always above 2 mg L–1. Light attenuation did not change over depth and time and was governed by dissolved ferric iron. The plankton consisted mainly of single-celled and filamentous bacteria, the two mixotrophic flagellates Chlamydomonas sp. and Ochromonas sp., the two rotifer species Elosa worallii and Cephalodella hoodi, and Heliozoa as top predators. We observed very few ciliates and rhizopods, and no heterotrophic flagellates, crustaceans or fish. Ochromonas sp., bacterial filaments, Elosa and Heliozoa dominated in the epilimnion whereas Chlamydomonas sp., single-celled bacteria and Cephalodella dominated in the hypolimnion. Single-celled bacteria were controlled by Ochromonas sp. whereas the lack of large consumers favoured a high proportion of bacterial filaments. The primarily phototrophic Chlamydomas sp. was limited by light and CO2 and may have been reduced due to grazing by Ochromonas sp. in the epilimnion. The distribution of the primarily phagotrophic Ochromonas sp. and of the animals seemed to be controlled by prey availability. Differences in the plankton composition were much higher between the epilimnion and hypolimnion than within a particular stratum over time. The food web in Lake 111 was extremely species-poor enabling no functional redundancy. This was attributed to the direct exclusion of species by the harsh environmental conditions and presumably enforced by competitive exclusion. The latter was promoted by the low diversity at the first trophic level which, in turn, was attributed to relatively stable growth conditions and the independence of resource availability (inorganic carbon and light) from algal density. Ecological theory suggests that low functional redundancy promotes low stability in ecosystem processes which was not supported by our data.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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