Hypoxia Effects Within an Intra-guild Predation Food Web of Mnemiopsis leidyi Ctenophores, Larval Fish, and Copepods

  • Sarah E. Kolesar
  • Kenneth A. Rose
  • Denise L. Breitburg


Differences in predator and prey tolerances to abiotic factors, such as seasonal low dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations in estuarine environments, can affect planktonic food web dynamics. Summertime hypoxia in the Chesapeake Bay alters field distributions, encounter rates, and predator–prey interactions between hypoxia-tolerant ctenophores, Mnemiopsis leidyi, and their less tolerant ichthyoplankton and zooplankton prey. Omnivory and intra-guild predation (IGP) increase the complexity of food webs, thereby confounding the effects of predation versus competition on prey populations. Omnivorous ctenophores in temperate estuarine food webs can both eat and compete with fish larvae for copepod prey. We isolated the effects of predation and competition, and how low versus high DO, affect larval fish growth and survival, using a spatially explicit (three vertical layers) individual-based model of a ctenophore-fish larvae-copepod IGP food web. We simulated three alternative food web structures of how ctenophores affect fish larvae (full interactions, relaxed predation, relaxed competition) under normoxic and hypoxic DO scenarios. Results from laboratory experiments and field studies were used to configure and corroborate the model. Ctenophore predation had a bigger effect on survival of modeled fish larvae than did competition between ctenophores and fish larvae for shared zooplankton prey, but competition more strongly affected larval fish growth rates than did predation. Hypoxia versus normoxia did not alter the relative importance of ctenophore predation and competition, but low DO did decrease larval fish survival and increase larval growth rates. Model results suggest that consideration of the interaction strength in food webs and explicit treatment of spatial habitats to allow predator–prey overlap to emerge from movement will enhance our ability to predict hypoxia effects on fish.


Hypoxia Bay anchovy Fish eggs Ichthyoplankton Zooplankton Predation Trophic Chesapeake Bay 



We thank W. Boynton, T. Miller, and J. Purcell for comments on a previous version of this manuscript and G. Waldbusser for assistance with figure preparation. Comments from two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this submission, and we are grateful for their efforts. Research was partially supported (KAR) by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) CHRP Grant numbers NA10NOS4780157 awarded to Louisiana State University and NA10NOS4780138 awarded to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (DLB). This is publication number 220 of the NOAA’s CSCOR NGOMEX and CHRP programs.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah E. Kolesar
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kenneth A. Rose
    • 3
  • Denise L. Breitburg
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Chesapeake Biological LaboratoryUniversity of Maryland Center for Environmental ScienceSolomonsUSA
  2. 2.Oregon Sea GrantOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Oceanography and Coastal SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  4. 4.Academy of Natural Sciences Estuarine Research CenterLeonardUSA
  5. 5.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA

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