Eutrophication from anthropogenic nutrient enrichment is a primary threat to the oligotrophic freshwater marshes of southern Florida. Macrophyte and periphyton response to increased phosphorus (P) has been well documented in both correlative and experimental studies, but the response of consumer communities remains poorly understood, especially in southern marl prairies. We conducted a P-loading experiment in in situ mesocosms in Taylor Slough, Everglades National Park, and examined the response of macroinvertebrate communities. Mesocosms at two sites were loaded weekly with P at four levels: control (0 g P/m2/yr), low (0.2 g P/m2/yr), intermediate (0.8 g P/m2/yr), and high (3.2 g P/m2/yr). After ∼2 yrs of P-loading, macroinvertebrates were sampled using periphyton mat and benthic floc cores. Densities of macroinvertebrate taxa (no./g AFDM) were two to 16 times higher in periphyton mats than benthic floc. Periphyton biomass decreased with enrichment at one site, and periphyton was absent from many intermediate and all high P treatments at both sites. Total macroinvertebrate density in periphyton mats increased with intermediate P loads, driven primarily by chironomids and nematodes. Conversely, total macroinvertebrate density in benthic floc decreased with enrichment, driven primarily by loss of chironomids and ceratopogonids (Dasyhelea). This study suggests that macroinvertebrate density increases with enrichment until periphyton mats are lost, after which it decreases, and mat infauna fail to move into benthic substrates in response to mat loss. These results were noted at nutrient levels too low to yield anoxia, and we believe that the decrease of macroinvertebrate density resulted from a loss of habitat. This work illustrates the importance of periphyton mats as habitat for macroinvertebrates in the Everglades. This study also indicates that in this system, macroinvertebrate sampling should be designed to target periphyton mats or conducted with special attention to inclusion of substrates relative to their coverage.
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Vol. 28 • No. 3