Multiple stressors unpredictably affect primary producers and decomposition in a model freshwater ecosystem

Sajida Saqira, Anthony Chariton, Grant C. Hose*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Freshwater ecosystems are affected by various stressors, such as contamination and exotic species, making them amongst the most imperilled biological systems on the planet. In Australia and elsewhere, copper is one of the most common metal contaminants in freshwater systems and the European carp (Cyprinus carpio L.) is one of the most pervasive and widespread invasive fish species. Copper (Cu) and carp can both directly affect primary production and decomposition, which are critical and interrelated nutrient cycling processes and ecosystem services. The aim of this study was to explore the direct and indirect effects of Cu and carp individually, and together on periphyton cover, chlorophyll a concentration, growth of the macrophyte Vallisneria spiralis L., and the decomposition of leaf litter and cotton strips in a controlled, factorial experiment in outdoor experimental ponds. In isolation, Cu reduced macrophyte growth and organic matter decomposition, while chlorophyll a concentrations and periphyton cover remained unchanged, possibly due to the Low-Cu concentrations in the overlying water. Carp addition alone had a direct negative effect on the biomass of aquatic plants outside protective cages, but also increased plant biomass inside the cages, periphyton cover and chlorophyll a concentrations. Leaf litter was more decomposed in the carp only ponds compared to controls, while there was no significant effect on cotton strip decomposition. Aquatic plants were absent in the Cu + carp ponds caused by the combined effects of Cu toxicity, carp disturbance and the increase in turbidity due to carp bioturbation. Increases in periphyton cover in Low-Cu + carp, while absence in the High-Cu + carp ponds, and differences in the decomposition of surface and buried cotton strips were not as predicted, which highlights the need for such studies to understand the complex interactions among stressors for environmental risk assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123680
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date9 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2024. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Biological stressor
  • Copper
  • Cyprinus carpio
  • Invasive species
  • Multiple stressors
  • Pond mesocosm


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