Habitat coupling in lake ecosystems


  • Daniel E. Schindler,

  • Mark D. Scheuerell

D. E. Schindler, M. D. Scheuerell, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Washington, Box 351800, Seattle, WA 98195, USA (deschind@u.washington.edu).


Lakes are complex ecosystems composed of distinct habitats coupled by biological, physical and chemical processes. While the ecological and evolutionary characteristics of aquatic organisms reflect habitat coupling in lakes, aquatic ecology has largely studied pelagic, benthic and riparian habitats in isolation from each other. Here, we summarize several ecological and evolutionary patterns that highlight the importance of habitat coupling and discuss their implications for understanding ecosystem processes in lakes. We pay special attention to fishes because they play particularly important roles as habitat couplers as a result of their high mobility and flexible foraging tactics that lead to inter-habitat omnivory. Habitat coupling has important consequences for nutrient cycling, predator-prey interactions, and food web structure and stability. For example, nutrient excretion by benthivorous consumers can account for a substantial fraction of inputs to pelagic nutrient cycles. Benthic resources also subsidize carnivore populations that have important predatory effects on plankton communities. These benthic subsidies stabilize population dynamics of pelagic carnivores and intensify the strength of their interactions with planktonic food webs. Furthermore, anthropogenic disturbances such as eutrophication, habitat modification, and exotic species introductions may severely alter habitat connections and, therefore, the fundamental flows of nutrients and energy in lake ecosystems.