Context dependency of top-down and bottom-up effects in a Northern Australian tropical river

Erica A. Garcia, Simon A. Townsend, Michael M. Douglas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)


Top-down and bottom-up forces (consumer and resource limitation, respectively) influence biomass of primary producers and primary consumers in natural food webs. Few investigators experimentally examine both in concert, especially in the tropics. Tropical systems probably are more sensitive than temperate systems to eutrophication and other disturbances, such as destruction of riparian canopy cover, because of wide windows of ecological opportunity. We experimentally examined the relative importance of top-down and bottom-up effects at 2 sites in the Edith River in the Australian wet-dry tropics during baseflow conditions. We used large fishexclusion cages to examine top-down effects of fish, and we used nutrient-diffusing substrates to manipulate bottom-up effects of nutrients. Macroinvertebrates were significantly more abundant in fish-exclusion cages than in open control areas at both sites. At 1 site, chlorophyll a on rock substrate was 1.5× greater and ash-free dry mass was 1.4× greater in fish-exclusion than in open cages. Chlorophyll a was >3× greater in the high-N and -P nutrient treatment than in the unamended control at both sites. Top-down effects on the algae on nutrientdiffusing substrates were detected at only 1 site. Bottom-up factors seem to be relatively more important in controlling primary producer biomass compared to top-down factors, with no evidence of a trophic cascade. Bottomup and top-down effects on macroinvertebrates were strong and consistent, whereas top-down effects on algae were context dependent and varied depending on benthic habitat, current speeds, and community structure. These results indicated spatial variation at the scale of tens of meters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)679-690
Number of pages12
JournalFreshwater Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


Cite this