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The role of the amphipod Gammarus locusta as a grazer on macroalgae in Swedish seagrass meadows
Andersson, S.; Persson, M.; Moksnes, P.-O.; Baden, S. (2009). The role of the amphipod Gammarus locusta as a grazer on macroalgae in Swedish seagrass meadows. Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 156(5): 969-981.
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Andersson, S.
  • Persson, M.
  • Moksnes, P.-O.
  • Baden, S.

    Mesograzers are thought to play a critical role in seagrass beds by preventing overgrowth of ephemeral algae. On the Swedish west coast, eelgrass Zostera marina has decreased in recent decades as a result of eutrophication and increased growth of macroalgal mats (mainly filamentous Ulva spp. and Ectocarpales), with no indication of grazer control of the algae. The aim of this study was to investigate the ability of the amphipod Gammarus locusta to control algal blooms during nutrient-enriched and ambient conditions, using a combination of laboratory, field and model studies. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that juvenile and adult G. locusta could consume both Ulva spp. and Ectocarpales, but that consumption of Ulva spp. was significantly higher. Cannibalism was common in individual treatments involving multiple size-classes of G. locusta, but only large, male gammarids consumed smaller juveniles in the presence of Ulva spp. as an alternative food source. However, no negative effects of cannibalism were found on total grazing impact. A model using size-specific grazing rates and growth rates of G. locusta and of Ulva spp. suggests that approximately 62 young juvenile, or 27 adult G. locusta are needed per gram DW of Ulva spp. to control the algal growth during ambient nutrient conditions, and approximately 2.6 times as many gammarids during enhanced nutrient conditions. On the Swedish west coast, densities and mean sizes of G. locusta in eelgrass beds are below these critical values, suggesting that the gammarids will not be able to control the growth of the filamentous macroalgae. However, in the field cage experiment, immigration of juveniles and reproduction of encaged adult G. locusta resulted in unexpectedly high densities of G. locusta (>4,000 individual m-2), and very low biomass of Ulva spp. in both ambient and nutrient-enriched treatments. Although the high numbers of juveniles in all cages precluded any significant treatment effects, this suggests that in the absent of predators, the population of G. locusta can grow significantly and control the biomass of Ulva spp. Furthermore, low grazing of Ectocarpales in the laboratory and high biomass of these filamentous brown algae in the field indicate a preference for the more palatable green algae Ulva spp. This study indicates that the high grazing capacity of G. locusta, in combination with high reproduction and growth rates, would allow the amphipod to play a key role in Z. marina ecosystems by controlling destructive blooms of filamentous green algae. However, high predation pressure appears to prevent large populations of G. locusta in eelgrass beds on the Swedish west coast today.

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