, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 746-758

The effects of introduced water hyacinth on habitat structure, invertebrate assemblages, and fish diets

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Abstract

The South American floating aquatic plant water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) has a history of worldwide invasions, including a 1904 introduction into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California. The native pennywort (Hydrocotyle umbellata) occupies similar habitats in the Delta and is extensively used by resident invertebrates and fish. We sought to discover if an invader would be functionally equivalent to the native plant, by asking whether the encroadhing hyacinth modified the invertebrate assemblage structure and fish-invertebrate food web relative to pennywort. We sampled epiphytic, epibenthic, and benthic invertebrates, and plant canopy insects in patches of hyacinth and pennywort, and analyzed fish diets at three sites in the Delta during 1998. We also measured habitat structure (leaf density, root biomass, and surface area). In 1999, following control and absence of hyacinth, we again measured epiphytic invertebrates in pennywort. We found differences between hyacinth and pennywort in structure, associated invertebrates, and fish diets. Most measurements inferred functional non-equivalency between hyacinth and pennywort, although some functional equivalency and natural variation existed. Leaf and insect densities were significantly higher in pennywort and there were also significant differences in insect assemblage compositions. Hyacinth roots in the water column had significantly more surface area. Densities of epibenthic and benthic aquatic invertebrates were typically greater in pennywort and taxonomic compositions of aquatic invertebrate assemblages showed significant differences. Amphipods and isopods living epiphytically in the root masses were particularly abundant, including several newly discovered introduced species: the amphipodCrangonyx floridanus and the isopodsCaecidotea racovitai andAsellus hilgendorfii. The native amphipodHyalella azteca was more abundant in pennywort and heavily preyed upon by fish, while the non-indigenousC. floridanus was more abundant in hyacinth and not prevalent in fish diets. The introduction of hyacinth to the Delta has caused significant ecological alterations in the surrounding community, due to hyacinth being functionally different from native patches of pennywort.