Phytoplankton and benthic algae coexist in shallow lakes and the outcome of the competition between these two photoautotrophs can markedly influence water clarity. It is well established that exposed artificial substrate in eutrophic waters can remove nutrients and fine particles from the water column via the attached periphyton canopy. However, the effects of the introduction of artificial substrate on the competition between planktonic and benthic primary producers remain to be elucidated. We conducted a short-term outdoor mesocosm experiment to test the hypothesis that the nutrient and light changes induced by exposed artificial substrate (polythene nets) would benefit the benthic algae. Artificial substrate significantly reduced total nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and water clarity improved, the latter due to the substrate-induced reduction of both organic and inorganic suspended solids. Consequently, as judged from changes in chlorophyll a
) concentrations in water and sediment, respectively, exposed artificial substrate significantly reduced the phytoplankton biomass, while benthic algae biomass increased. Our results thus indicate that exposed artificial substrate may be used as a tool to re-establish benthic primary production in eutrophic shallow lakes after an external nutrient loading reduction, paving the way for a benthic- or a macrophyte-dominated system. Longer term and larger scale experiments are, however, needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn on this.
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