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Herbivory limits the yellow water lily in an overgrown lake and in flowing water

Abstract

Aquatic macrophytes with floating leaves are often key ecological species that affect entire aquatic ecosystems. Here we describe an investigation of the importance of insect herbivory for population growth and leaf senescence in the yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea). In order to gain a general picture of the importance of herbivory under different conditions, we experimentally manipulated herbivory in a large lily population in natural still water and observed the natural development of 32 smaller populations in flowing water. Herbivory drastically increased leaf senescence, reducing leaf density. In the still water, over one summer, leaf density increased by a factor of 1.23 in the presence of water lily leaf beetles and 1.61 when herbivory was eliminated. In flowing water, population growth was restricted mainly by leaf crowdedness, which limited large dense populations. Herbivory by water lily leaf beetles also had a limiting effect on yellow water lily, again mainly in large dense populations. Small populations supported a lower density of beetles. Previous studies have not addressed population-level responses of vascular plants with floating leaves. Our results suggest that herbivory can result in greater light penetration into the water and reduce “enemy-free space” for aquatic species that find such space in water lily stands. We suggest that the water lily leaf beetle should be considered an “ecological engineer.”

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Acknowledgments

We thank Göran & Sölvi Stenberg for accommodation and for placing a boat at our disposal during summer 2010. We are also grateful to Hanna Stenberg for technical assistance in the field. Finally, we would like to thank Christer Björkman, Peter Dalin, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a previous version of this paper.

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Correspondence to Johan A. Stenberg.

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Handling editor: Sidinei Magela Thomaz

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Stenberg, J.A., Stenberg, J.E. Herbivory limits the yellow water lily in an overgrown lake and in flowing water. Hydrobiologia 691, 81–88 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-012-1035-y

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Keywords

  • Nuphar lutea
  • Galerucella nymphaeae
  • Pyrrhalta
  • Biological control
  • Herbivory