1. Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) derive their energy from the pelagic energy pathway by filtering plankton. Because zebra mussels occur in high densities in littoral habitats, they potentially constitute an important trophic link between littoral consumers and pelagic energy sources. Northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) are widespread in North America and consume zebra mussels.
2. We used stable isotopes analyses to quantify the flow of energy from the pelagic pathway to northern map turtles and to infer the contribution of zebra mussels to map turtle biomass. We then built a bioenergetic model to estimate the annual intake of zebra mussels by northern map turtles in Lake Opinicon, Ontario, Canada.
3. Stable isotopes analyses indicated that zebra mussels constitute between 0% and 14% of the diet of males and between 4% and 36% of the diet of females. Assuming that zebra mussels account for all of the pelagic contribution, we estimated that map turtles consume 3200 kg of zebra mussels annually. Because female map turtles are much larger than males and consume more zebra mussels, they are responsible for 95% of the zebra mussel biomass ingested annually.
4. The pelagic pathway supports an important part of the standing crop biomass of map turtles in Lake Opinicon. We highlight the importance of freshwater turtles in lake ecosystems. Unravelling the trophic interactions mediated by freshwater turtles will lead to a more integrated picture of lake ecosystems.