We investigated whether nutrient limitations of primary producers act upward through food webs only in terms of density effects or if there is a second pathway for nutrient limitation signals channelled upward to higher trophic levels. We used tritrophic food chains to assess the effects of nutrient-limited phytoplankters (the cryptophyte Rhodomonas salina) on herbivorous zooplankters (the calanoid copepod Acartia tonsa) and finally zooplanktivores (larval herring Clupea harengus) living on the herbivores. The primary producers' food quality had a significant effect on fish condition. Our experimental phosphorus-limited food chain resulted in larval fish with a significantly poorer condition than their counterparts reared under nitrogen-limited or nutrient-sufficient conditions. Our results show that mineral nutrient requirements of consumers have to be satisfied first before fatty acids can promote further growth. This challenges the match/mismatch hypothesis, which links larval fish survival probability solely to prey availability, and could imply that reduced nutrient releases into the environment may affect fish stocks even more severely than previously believed.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science