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Aggregated filter-feeders govern the flux and stoichiometry of locally available energy and nutrients in rivers


Hopper, Garrett et al. (2021), Aggregated filter-feeders govern the flux and stoichiometry of locally available energy and nutrients in rivers, Dryad, Dataset,


Biogeochemical cycling has often been characterized by physical and microbial processes, yet animals can be essential mediators of energy and nutrients in ecosystems. Excretion by aggregated animals can be an important local source of inorganic nutrients in green food webs, however, whether animals are a source of dissolved energy that can support brown food webs is understudied.

We tested whether animal aggregations are a substantial flux of bioavailable dissolved organic matter (DOM) by studying spatially stable, biogeochemical hotspots formed by filter-feeding freshwater mussels. We used parallel-factor analysis to quantify DOM fluorescent components composition of mussel excretion and expected digestive breakdown of particulate food sources would lead to excretion of labile DOM. Next, we combined measured excretion rates of DOM, ammonium (NH4+, N), and phosphorous (SRP; P) for 22 species with biomass estimates for 14 aggregations to quantify contributions of DOM, N, and P to local availability. Because mussels occupy distinct stoichiometric niches, we anticipated that differences in species biomass and assemblage structure would elicit different flux and stoichiometries of aggregate excretion.

Aggregate dissolved organic carbon (DOC) excretion was minor (1-11%) compared to N (12-2860%) and P (1-97%), yet generalities across assemblages emerged regarding organic matter transformation by mussels towards labile protein-like compounds compared to abundant aromatic, humic compounds in ambient water.

Aggregate excretion of labile DOM was a substantial pool of bioavailable energy, contributing 2 – 114% of local labile DOM. Spatial differences in assemblage structure led to strong differences in aggregate flux and stoichiometry driven by biomass and stoichiometric trait expression of species with contrasting dominance patterns.

Under the nutrient conditions of our study (high C:nutrient), biogeochemical hotspots associated with low-trophic position animal biomass may indirectly control energy flow to the brown food web by shifting C:nutrient stoichiometry available to microbes or directly by increasing the flux of microbially available DOM. Collectively, our results highlight a potentially substantial flux of labile energy and nutrients to microbial communities through the transformation of ingested organic matter by aggregations of animals and emphasize that shared functional trait classification may not translate into shared ecological function.

Usage Notes

Data covers figures 2, 3, and 4. Excel files contain read me, detailed key to all column headers/variables, and species list to decipher short hand species codes.


National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1831512