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Significant fish predation on zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha in Lake Champlain, U.S.A.

Authors

  • M. C. Watzin,

    Corresponding author
    1. Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, 3 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401, U.S.A.
      *Tel.: +1 802 859 3086; fax: +1 802 859 3089; email: mary.watzin@uvm.edu
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  • K. Joppe-Mercure,

    1. Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, 3 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401, U.S.A.
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  • J. Rowder,

    1. Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, 3 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401, U.S.A.
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  • B. Lancaster,

    1. Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, 3 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401, U.S.A.
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  • L. Bronson

    1. Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, 3 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401, U.S.A.
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*Tel.: +1 802 859 3086; fax: +1 802 859 3089; email: mary.watzin@uvm.edu

Abstract

The objectives of this study were to: (1) determine which fishes were consistently eating zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha in Lake Champlain and document their feeding behaviour and (2) quantify the diet composition of the fish predators that were found to consume zebra mussels. From 2002 to 2005, freshwater drum Aplodinotus grunniens, pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus, yellow perch Perca flavescens and rock bass Ambloplites rupestris all consumed zebra mussels at varying frequencies and amounts. Aplodinotusgrunniens and L. gibbosus chewed clumps of zebra mussels, expelling shells, whereas P. flavescens and A. rupestris swallowed small individuals whole. Lepomis gibbosus consumed zebra mussels at the highest frequency (65–89% of prey consumed) and zebra mussels comprised a large part of this fish’s diet (up to 40% by dry mass). Zebra mussels were also an important component of the diet of A. grunniens (up to 59% of the diet by dry mass, 40–63% frequency of consumption). The percentage of the diet comprising zebra mussels in P. flavescens and A. rupestris varied significantly from year to year but never exceeded 10%. Because A. grunniens and L. gibbosus crushed zebra mussels, the nutritional return from consuming zebra mussels would be similar to other prey; for P. flavescens and A. rupestris zebra mussels were only partially digested and the nutritional return would probably be low. As predation on zebra mussels is widespread and significant, it is possible that fish predators could contribute to regulating the population of zebra mussels in Lake Champlain.

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