, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 364-372
Date: 03 Mar 2010

Impacts of a Habitat-Forming Exotic Species on Estuarine Structure and Function: An Experimental Assessment of Eurasian Milfoil

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Abstract

It is widely believed that successful colonization of ecosystems by non-native species will have catastrophic consequences for the recipient system. Within the Mobile–Tensaw Delta, AL, exotic Eurasian milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) has been reported to trigger degradation of ecosystem structure and function. We evaluated the impacts of structurally complex milfoil on food web structure and predator-prey interactions via comparisons with two native grasses, structurally simple wild celery (Vallisneria americana) and the more complex water stargrass (Heteranthera dubia). While significant differences were not detected in the faunal compositions of milfoil and stargrass habitats, significant differences between milfoil and wild celery were found. Laboratory experiments showed that rainwater killifish, a key contributor to these differences, preferred milfoil over wild celery, but did not occupy milfoil more than stargrass. Subsequent experiments indicated that survivorship was drastically lower in wild celery. Though many of the documented impacts of Eurasian milfoil have been cast as detrimental, shelter-seeking organisms may perceive milfoil in the same way as other complex native species.