The Nutrient-Load Hypothesis: Patterns of Resource Limitation and Community Structure Driven by Competition for Nutrients and Light

Verena S. Brauer, Maayke Stomp, Jef Huisman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)
315 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Resource competition theory predicts that the outcome of competition for two nutrients depends on the ratio at which these nutrients are supplied. Yet there is considerable debate whether nutrient ratios or absolute nutrient loads determine the species composition of phytoplankton and plant communities. Here we extend the classical resource competition model for two nutrients by including light as additional resource. Our results suggest the nutrient-load hypothesis, which predicts that nutrient ratios determine the species composition in oligotrophic environments, whereas nutrient loads are decisive in eutrophic environments. The underlying mechanism is that nutrient enrichment shifts the species interactions from competition for nutrients to competition for light, which favors the dominance of superior light competitors overshadowing all other species. Intermediate nutrient loads can generate high biodiversity through a fine-grained patchwork of two-species and three-species coexistence equilibria. Depending on the species traits, however, competition for nutrients and light may also produce multiple alternative stable states, suppressing the predictability of the species composition. The nutrient-load hypothesis offers a solution for several discrepancies between classical resource competition theory and field observations, explains why eutrophication often leads to diversity loss, and provides a simple conceptual framework for patterns of biodiversity and community structure observed in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-740
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Volume179
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2012

Keywords

  • biodiversity
  • resource competition
  • eutrophication
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • light limitation
  • BLUE-GREEN-ALGAE
  • FRESH-WATER PHYTOPLANKTON
  • N-P RATIOS
  • LIMITED GROWTH
  • MIXING DEPTHS
  • ASYMMETRIC COMPETITION
  • BIODIVERSITY PATTERNS
  • LAKE PHYTOPLANKTON
  • SPECIES RICHNESS
  • RELATIVE BIOMASS

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