Size-mediated control of perch–midge coupling in Lake Erie transient dead zones
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Transient ecosystem-level disturbances such as oxygen depletion (hypoxia) in aquatic systems modulate species distributions and interactions. In highly eutrophic systems, hypoxic areas (“dead zones”) have expanded around the world, temporarily preventing many demersal predators from accessing their food resources. Here, we investigate how yellow perch (Perca flavescens), an exploited, cool-water mesopredator, interact with their dominant invertebrate prey in benthic habitat–non-biting midge (chironomid) larvae–as bottom-water hypoxia develops in central Lake Erie (United States–Canada) during summer. We apply linear mixed-effects models to individual-level data from basin-wide field surveys on size-based interactions between perch and midge larvae under varying habitat conditions and resource attributes. We test if 1) midge populations (larval body size and density) differ among habitat states (unstratified normoxia, stratified normoxia, and stratified hypoxia); and 2) size-based perch–midge interactions (predator–prey mass ratio or PPMR) differ among habitat states with varying temperature and midge density. Midge populations remained highly abundant after bottom-water oxygen depletion. Despite their high densities, midge larvae also maintained their body size in hypoxic water. In contrast, perch on average consumed relatively smaller (by up to ~64%) midges (higher PPMR) in warmer and hypoxic water, while prey size ingested by perch shrunk less in areas with higher midge density. Our analysis shows that hypoxia-tolerant midges largely allow perch to maintain their consumer–resource relationships in contracted habitats through modified size-mediated interactions in dead zones during summer, revealing plasticity of their trophic coupling in the chronically perturbed ecosystem.
KeywordsFood web Trait-mediated Foraging Body size Great Lakes Hierarchical modeling
We thank all those who provided lab, field, or data management support, including the captains and crew of the R/V Laurentian and R/V Lake Guardian, Anne Clites, Marco Constantini, Hal Gunder, Darryl Hondorp, Sean Sisler, Joann Calvaletto, Theodore Bambakidis, Anna Belyeava, Grace Milanowski, Megan Miner, and Chris Rae. This work was supported by the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research grant (No. NA07OAR432000) with samples and experiments conducted as part of the International Field Years on Lake Erie (IFYLE) program, supported primarily by NOAA-GLERL, the US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, and the National Sea Grant College Program. This manuscript is NOAA-GLERL contribution # xxxx and EcoFore Lake Erie publication No. 1863.
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Conflicts of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human participants and animal study
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
For this type of study formal consent is not required.
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