Resource switching in fish following a major food web disruption

Abstract

Dreissenid mussels (Dreissena polymorpha and D. bugensis) have re-engineered Great Lakes ecosystems since their introduction in the late 1980s. Dreissenids can have major indirect impacts on profundal habitats by redirecting nutrients and energy away from pelagic production (which supplies profundal production) and depositing nutrients and energy in the nearshore zones that they occupy. However, strong empirical evidence for the effects of this redirection of resources on fish populations is currently lacking. Here, we report significant shifts in isotopic signatures, depth distribution and diets of a coldwater profundal fish population that are all consistent with a greater reliance on nearshore resources after the establishment of dreissenid mussels in South Bay, Lake Huron. Isotopic signatures of scales collected from 5-year-old lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) demonstrated remarkable stability over the 50-year period prior to the establishment of dreissenids (1947–1997) and a sudden and significant change in isotopic signatures (3‰ enrichment in δ13C and 1‰ depletion in δ15N) after their establishment (2001–2005). These dramatic shifts in isotopic signatures were accompanied by a coincident shift in the mean depth of capture of lake whitefish towards the nearshore. A comparison of previously unpublished pre-invasion diets of lake whitefish from South Bay with contemporary diets collected between 2002 and 2005 also indicate a greater reliance on nearshore prey after the invasion of dreissenid mussels. This study is the first to report changes in the carbon source available to lake whitefish associated with restructured benthic communities after the appearance of dreissenid mussels. Further, this study contributes to a growing body of work that demonstrates the ecological insights that can be gained through isotopic analysis of archived fish bony tissues in ecosystems that have experienced significant levels of disturbance.

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Acknowledgments

Chesley West helped prepare lake whitefish tissues for isotopic analysis, and Randolph Fernandez and Michael Yuille sorted benthic invertebrate samples. Nina Jakobi and Bridget Dilauro sorted and identified stomach contents for contemporary whitefish samples. John Stinchcombe graciously provided access to his microbalance. Bill Mark, Mike Power, Jake Vander Zanden, Chelsey Lumb and Blake Matthews provided insights into sample preparation and study design. Tanya Kenesky and Andrew Nicholson helped prepare ESM S1. Dave Anderson provided advice on interpreting archived data codes. Luke Hillyer, Nina Jakobi and Rob Keetch and the past and present captain and crew of the Atygamayg provided field support. Thanks to Bryan Henderson for reviving the South Bay field program in 2001. Insightful comments from Bob Hecky improved the quality of the manuscript. This work was supported financially by grants from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canada Ontario Agreement to WGS, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grants to MDR and WGS, a research grant from the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to MDR, Ontario Graduate Scholarships to MDR, and a Norman S. Baldwin Fishery Science Scholarship to MDR. The experiments performed here comply with the current laws of Canada.

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Correspondence to Michael D. Rennie.

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Communicated by Dag Olav Hesseb.

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Rennie, M.D., Sprules, W.G. & Johnson, T.B. Resource switching in fish following a major food web disruption. Oecologia 159, 789–802 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-008-1271-z

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Keywords

  • Nearshore phosphorous shunt
  • Dreissenids
  • Biological invasion
  • Stable isotopes
  • Lake whitefish