Fifty years later: trophic ecology and niche overlap of a native and non-indigenous fish species in the western basin of Lake Erie
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- Guzzo, M.M., Haffner, G.D., Legler, N.D. et al. Biol Invasions (2013) 15: 1695. doi:10.1007/s10530-012-0401-z
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Since the introduction of white perch (Morone americana) into Lake Erie over 50 years ago, the population size of native yellow perch (Perca flavescens) has decreased up to 79 % and significant changes to the ecosystem have occurred. We examined long-term population estimates and used stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) paired with stomach content analysis to quantify the trophic ecology and niche overlap of adult yellow perch and white perch in the western basin of Lake Erie. We found that changes in yellow perch abundance since 1979 appeared to be better correlated with changes in fishery exploitation rates than with food competition effects from white perch. At the time of this study, yellow perch were found to have higher δ13C values, indicating greater utilization of benthic food resources than white perch, and white perch occupied higher trophic positions based on δ15N. The diets of both species varied spatially and seasonally based on stable isotopes and stomach contents, likely driven by changes in prey abundance. Comparison of niche widths using stable isotope population metrics and Schoener diet similarity index suggested a low to moderate degree of niche overlap between species. Isotopic niches of white perch were generally larger than those of yellow perch demonstrating broader resource utilization by this non-indigenous species. We submit that isotopic niche overlap comparisons are more appropriate for studies seeking to understand interactions among populations over course temporal scales, while diet overlap indices, such as the Schoener index provide a means to study fine-scale interactions such as ontogenetic and seasonal diet shifts.