Transient Dynamics of Pelagic Producer-Grazer Systems in a Gradient of Nutrients and Mixing Depths

Ecology. 2008 May;89(5):1272-86. doi: 10.1890/07-0347.1.


Phytoplankton-grazer dynamics are often characterized by long transients relative to the length of the growing season. Using a phytoplankton-grazer model parameterized for Daphnia pulex with either flexible or fixed algal carbon:nutrient stoichiometry, we explored how nutrient and light supply (the latter by varying depth of the mixed water column) affect the transient dynamics of the system starting from low densities. The system goes through an initial oscillation across nearly the entire light-nutrient supply space. With flexible (but not with fixed) algal stoichiometry, duration of the initial algal peak, timing and duration of the subsequent grazer peak, and timing of the algal minimum are consistently accelerated by nutrient enrichment but decelerated by light enrichment (decreasing mixing depth) over the range of intermediate to shallow mixing depths. These contrasting effects of nutrient vs. light enrichment are consequences of their opposing influences on food quality (algal nutrient content): algal productivity and food quality are positively related along a nutrient gradient but inversely related along a light gradient. Light enrichment therefore slows down grazer growth relative to algal growth, decelerating oscillatory dynamics; nutrient enrichment has opposite effects. We manipulated nutrient supply and mixing depth in a field enclosure experiment. The experimental results were qualitatively much more consistent with the flexible than with the fixed stoichiometry model. Nutrient enrichment increased Daphnia peak biomass, decreased algal minimum biomass, decreased the seston C:P ratio, and accelerated transient oscillatory dynamics. Light enrichment (decreasing mixing depth) produced the opposite patterns, except that Daphnia peak biomass increased monotonously with light enrichment, too. Thus, while the model predicts the possibility of the "paradox of energy enrichment" (a decrease in grazer biomass with light enrichment) at high light and low nutrient supply, this phenomenon did not occur in our experiment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Daphnia / physiology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Eukaryota / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Fertilizers
  • Fresh Water
  • Models, Biological*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Phytoplankton / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics


  • Fertilizers