Wilson granted NSF Award

Consequences of consumer adaptation for ecosystem responses to fertilization and food-web perturbations

Principal investigators:
Alan Wilson – Auburn University (http://www.wilsonlab.com) – $113,578
Orlando Sarnelle – Michigan State University (http://www.fw.msu.edu/~sarnelle/) – $286,183

National Science Foundation

3/2009 to 3/2013

Project abstract:
Increased nutrient input to aquatic systems (eutrophication) leads to degradation of water quality as a result of increases in suspended algae (phytoplankton), and in particular, phytoplankton species that produce toxins. These toxins are a serious threat to human uses of surface waters in both freshwater and marine environments. Despite much progress in reducing nutrient inputs, eutrophication and associated toxic phytoplankton, remains one of the most important causes of impairment to surface waters in the U. S. One strategy for improving water quality is to manage the food web so as to increase grazing pressure on the phytoplankton by increasing herbivorous zooplankton. Laboratory studies have suggested, however, that food-web manipulation may fail because of the strong negative effects of phytoplankton toxins on zooplankton growth and reproduction. Previous research has demonstrated that individuals of a common species of zooplankton (D. pulicaria) vary greatly in their ability to grow on a diet of toxic phytoplankton depending on toxin levels in their local environment. This project examines the consequences of such adaptation for water quality in lakes. In addition to the obvious potential impact of this research on the management of surface waters, the project also focuses on two little-studied general phenomena in community ecology: the roles of predator adaptation and intraspecific trait variation in species interactions. Consequently, the field experiments to be conducted will advance both basic and applied ecology. The project will also provide hands-on training in experimental ecology to graduate and undergraduate students at Michigan State University and Auburn University. Students interested in participating on this project should contact Alan Wilson (wilson@auburn.edu).

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