Global environmental change has altered the nitrogen (N) cycle and enhanced terrestrial dissolved organic carbon (DOC) loadings to northern boreal lakes. However, it is still unclear how enhanced N availability affects pelagic food web efficiency (FWE) and crustacean zooplankton growth in N limited boreal lakes. Here, we performed in situ mesocosm experiments in six unproductive boreal Swedish lakes, paired across a DOC gradient, with one lake in each pair fertilized with N (2011: reference year; 2012, 2013: impact years). We assessed how zooplankton growth and FWE were affected by changes in pelagic energy mobilization (PEM), food chain length (phytoplankton versus bacterial production based food chain, i.e. PP:BP), and food quality (seston stoichiometry) in response to N fertilization. Although PP, PEM and PP:BP increased in low and medium DOC lakes after N fertilization, consumer growth and FWE were reduced, especially at low DOC—potentially due to reduced phytoplankton food quality [increased C: phosphorus (P); N:P]. At high DOC, N fertilization caused modest increases in PP and PEM, with marginal changes in PP:BP and phytoplankton food quality, which, combined, led to a slight increase in zooplankton growth and FWE. Consequently, at low DOC (<12 mg L−1), increased N availability lowers FWE due to mismatches in food quality demand and supply, whereas at high DOC this mismatch does not occur, and zooplankton production and FWE may increase. We conclude that the lake DOC level is critical for predicting the effects of enhanced inorganic N availability on pelagic productivity in boreal lakes.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 29, 2017
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