Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 98, Issue 6, pp 1525–1539 | Cite as

Nonlinear and density-dependent fish habitat selection across physiochemical gradients in an invasive macrophyte habitat

  • Kyle L. WilsonEmail author
  • Micheal S. Allen
  • Robert N. M. Ahrens
  • Michael D. Netherland


Invasive macrophytes drive substantial changes to freshwater fish habitats. Such changes can influence how fish select for habitats, but fish–habitat relationships in many invasive macrophytes are often poorly understood at micro-scales. Fish habitat use is influenced by dissolved oxygen (DO) and habitat complexity, but this response can be nonlinear and dependent upon fish density. This study tested whether microhabitat use of sunfish (Lepomis spp.) in invasive macrophyte beds was density-dependent. Fish were sampled with underwater video point counts in six 0.405 ha experimental ponds with surface-matted hydrilla Hydrilla verticillata and stocked with varying densities of sunfishes. Regression models were used to evaluate the key drivers for fish habitat selection across DO, complexity and fish densities. Both fish occurrence and fish counts were positively influenced by DO and negatively influenced by habitat complexity, but the fish counts-DO relationship was dome-shaped and both fish occurrence and counts depended upon fish densities. For example, at high fish densities, fish used low and high DO and high macrophyte complexity; at low fish densities, fish avoided such areas. Fish counts peaked at intermediate DO and low macrophyte complexity. Density-dependent fish habitat selection appeared to mitigate detrimental effects of invasive macrophytes on fish habitats, indicating that fish can and do use ‘inhospitable’ habitats with potential positive population growth. Understanding density-dependent habitat selection is needed when evaluating the quality of habitats, as apparently inhospitable habitats can be utilized when fish density is high.


Lepomis macrochirus Hydrilla verticillata Aquatic plant management Fish–macrophyte relationships Freshwater fisheries Underwater video 



The authors thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Invasive Plant Management Section for financial support and the U.S. Geological Survey Southeastern Ecological Science Center for access to the experimental ponds. This research was permitted under the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee permit #USGS/SESC 2011–09 under Category I (no direct impact on animals). The authors thank the University of Florida’s Dan Gwinn for advice on analyses and Jeremy Slade for help on project development as well as Erin Bradshaw, Nicholas Cole, Zack Slagle, Simone Nageon de Lestang, and Antonio Malouf for field collections and video analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kyle L. Wilson
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Micheal S. Allen
    • 1
  • Robert N. M. Ahrens
    • 1
  • Michael D. Netherland
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Program of Fisheries and Aquatic SciencesUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.US Army Engineer Research and Development CenterGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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