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Nature. 2000 Jan 6;403(6765):74-7.

A highly unsaturated fatty acid predicts carbon transfer between primary producers and consumers.

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Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis 95616, USA.


The factors that regulate energy transfer between primary producers and consumers in aquatic ecosystems have been investigated for more than 50 years. Among all levels of the food web (plants, herbivores, carnivores), the plant-animal interface is the most variable and least predictable link. In hypereutrophic lakes, for example, biomass and energy transfer is often inhibited at the phytoplankton-zooplankton link, resulting in an accumulation of phytoplankton biomass instead of sustaining production at higher trophic levels, such as fish. Accumulation of phytoplankton (especially cyanobacteria) results in severe deterioration of water quality, with detrimental effects on the health of humans and domestic animals, and diminished recreational value of water bodies. We show here that low transfer efficiencies between primary producers and consumers during cyanobacteria bloom conditions are related to low relative eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5omega3) content of the primary producer community. Zooplankton growth and egg production were strongly related to the primary producer 20:5omega3 to carbon ratio. This indicates that limitation of zooplankton production by this essential fatty acid is of central importance at the pelagic producer-consumer interface.

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