Effects of turbidity and an invasive waterweed on predation by introduced largemouth bass

Abstract

Anthropogenic activities lead to changes in characteristics of aquatic ecosystems, including alteration of turbidity and addition of invasive species. In this study, we tested how changes in turbidity and the recent invasion of an aquatic macrophyte, Egeria densa, may have changed the predation pressure by introduced largemouth bass on juvenile striped bass and delta smelt, two species that have seen a drastic decline in recent decades in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In a series of mesocosm experiments, we showed that increases in vegetation density decreased the predation success of largemouth bass. When placed in an environment with both open water and vegetated areas, and given a choice to forage on prey associated with either of these habitats, largemouth bass preyed mainly on open water species as opposed to vegetation-associated species, such as juvenile largemouth bass, bluegill or red swamp crayfish. Finally, we showed that turbidity served as cover to open water species and increased the survival of delta smelt, an endemic species at risk. We also found that such open water prey tend not to seek refuge in the vegetation cover, even in the presence of an imminent predation threat. These results provide the beginning of a mechanistic framework to explain how decreases in turbidity and increases in vegetation cover correlate with a decline of open water species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Andrew Bibian, Talene Baghdassarian, Ann Chang, Erik Hallen, and Paul Lutes for their help with animal care and technical assistance with the trials. We thank Joan Lindberg and Luke Ellison at the Fish Conservation and Culture Laboratory of the University of California Davis for supplying the delta smelt for the study and for their guidance in caring for delta smelt. This study was conducted under the University of California Davis Animal care protocol number: 15422. Financial support was provided by the Interagency Ecological Program and the US Bureau of Reclamation (R10AC20090) to LC, AS, KW and MY, and by NSERC to MF.

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Correspondence to J. Louise Conrad.

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Ferrari, M.C.O., Ranåker, L., Weinersmith, K.L. et al. Effects of turbidity and an invasive waterweed on predation by introduced largemouth bass. Environ Biol Fish 97, 79–90 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-013-0125-7

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Keywords

  • Largemouth bass
  • Micropterus salmoides
  • Egeria densa
  • Delta smelt
  • Turbidity
  • Predator–prey