Aquatic plant-herbivore interactions across multiple spatial scales.
Morrison, Wendy Elizabeth
MetadataShow full item record
For decades scientists believed that herbivory had minimal impact on freshwater ecosystems. We now know that herbivory in freshwater systems equals or exceeds herbivory in terrestrial and marine systems. In extreme cases, herbivores can change clear, macrophyte dominated ecosystems into turbid plankton dominated ecosystems. Even though research on plant-herbivore interactions in freshwater systems has increased, there is still much that is unknown. This thesis is comprised of four studies investigating freshwater plant-herbivore interactions across multiple spatial scales. The first study investigated how induced chemical defenses in Cabomba caroliniana suppress herbivore consumption and growth as well as how this herbivore-generated change in plant chemistry affects the growth of plant associated microbes. At the spatial scale of individual ponds or lakes, consumers that induce their host plants may also be indirectly affecting other consumers and microbial pathogens via changes in this shared resource. The second study moves to an ecosystem scale and investigates how exotic versus native apple snails may impact Everglades' habitats. We investigated plant preference, consumption, growth and conversion efficiencies in the singly native apple snail to occur in the U.S. (Pomacea paludosa) versus four introduced species (P. canaliculata, P. insularum, P. haustrum and P. diffusa). We found that even though plant preferences are similar, invasive snails tend to eat more, grow more rapidly, and sometimes more efficiently than natives. This suggests that invasive species could have a large impact on the environment, especially the abundance of submerged plants. The third study investigated how palatability of freshwater plants varies with latitude (i.e. geographic scale). Increased herbivory at lower latitudes is hypothesized to select for increased plant defenses, which has been shown to be true for tropical forests, salt marshes, and seaweeds. When we contrasted eight confamilial plants collected in Indiana versus Southern Florida, three of four herbivores significantly preferred northern plants. When we evaluated a second set of plants collected from Indiana versus Central Florida, only one of three herbivores preferred the northern plants. Overall, our results suggest a preference for northern plants, but the strength of this relationship was variable. We hypothesize that this variability may be driven by 1) local variance in herbivore pressure that creates variance in plant defenses, and/or 2) the effect of winter length on the survival and feeding rate of herbivores. The final study expanded to a world scale, and investigated herbivore preference for native vs exotic plants. We found that both N. American crayfish and S. American snails preferred exotic plants over confamilial natives, despite responding to different plant characteristics. The single species of apple snail that occurs in N. American showed no preference for native or exotic plants from a N. American perspective, but instead exhibited preferences that correlated with its history of evolution in S. America. As the N. American species is a sister species of the S. American snails, feeding by the N. American snail appears more affected by its S. American lineage than its recent history in N. America. This suggests that phylogenetic legacy will affect choices of the herbivore as well as resistance or susceptibility of plants.