1. Numerous interacting abiotic and biotic factors influence niche use and assemblage structure of freshwater fishes, but the strength of each factor changes with spatial scale. Few studies have examined the role of interspecific competition in structuring stream fish assemblages across spatial scales. We used field and laboratory approaches to examine microhabitat partitioning and the effect of interspecific competition on microhabitat use in two sympatric stream fishes (Galaxias‘southern’ and Galaxias gollumoides) at large (among streams and among sites within streams) and small (within artificial stream channels) spatial scales.
2. Diurnal microhabitat partitioning and interspecific competition at large spatial scales were analysed among three sympatry streams (streams with allotopic and syntopic sites; three separate catchments) and four allopatry streams (streams with only allotopic sites; two separate catchments). Electro-fishing was used to sample habitat use of fishes at 30 random points within each site by quantifying four variables for each individual: water velocity, depth, distance to nearest cover and substratum size. Habitat availability was then quantified for each site by measuring those variables at each of 50 random points. Diet and stable isotope partitioning was analysed from syntopic sites only. Diel cycles of microhabitat use and interspecific competition at small spatial scales were examined by monitoring water velocity use over 48 h in artificial stream channels for three treatments: (i) allopatric G. ‘southern’ (10 G. ‘southern’); (ii) allopatric G. gollumoides (10 G. gollumoides) and (iii) sympatry (five individuals of each species).
3. One hundred and ninety-four G. ‘southern’ and 239 G. gollumoides were sampled across all seven streams, and habitat availability between the two species was similar among all sites. Galaxias‘southern’ utilised faster water velocities than G. gollumoides in both the field and in channel experiments. Both species utilised faster water velocities in channels at night than during the day. Diet differences were observed and were supported by isotopic differences (two of three sites). No interspecific differences were observed for the other three microhabitat variables in the field, and multivariate habitat selection did not differ between species. Interspecific competition had no effect on microhabitat use of either species against any variable either in the field (large scale) or in channels (small scale).
4. The results suggest that niche partitioning occurs along a subset of microhabitat variables (water velocity use and diet). Interspecific competition does not appear to be a major biotic factor controlling microhabitat use by these sympatric taxa at any spatial scale. The results further suggest that stream fish assemblages are not primarily structured by biotic factors, reinforcing other studies de-emphasising interspecific competition.
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