1. Oligotrophic lakes are generally dominated by calanoid copepods because of their competitive advantage over cladocerans at low prey densities. Planktivory also can alter zooplankton community structure. We sought to understand the role of planktivory in driving recent changes to the zooplankton community of Lake Huron, a large oligotrophic lake on the border of Canada and the United States. We tested the hypothesis that excessive predation by fish (rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax, bloater Coregonus hoyi) and invertebrates (Mysis relicta, Bythotrephes longimanus) had driven observed declines in cladoceran and cyclopoid copepod biomass between 2002 and 2007.
2. We used a field sampling and bioenergetics modelling approach to generate estimates of daily consumption by planktivores at two 91-m depth sites in northern Lake Huron, U.S.A., for each month, May–October 2007. Daily consumption was compared to daily zooplankton production.
3. Bythotrephes was the dominant planktivore and estimated to have eaten 78% of all zooplankton consumed. Bythotrephes consumption exceeded total zooplankton production between July and October. Mysis consumed 19% of all the zooplankton consumed and exceeded zooplankton production in October. Consumption by fish was relatively unimportant – eating only 3% of all zooplankton consumed.
4. Because Bythotrephes was so important, we explored other consumption estimation methods that predict lower Bythotrephes consumption. Under this scenario, Mysis was the most important planktivore, and Bythotrephes consumption exceeded zooplankton production only in August.
5. Our results provide no support for the hypothesis that excessive fish consumption directly contributed to the decline of cladocerans and cyclopoid copepods in Lake Huron. Rather, they highlight the importance of invertebrate planktivores in structuring zooplankton communities, especially for those foods webs that have both Bythotrephes and Mysis. Together, these species occupy the epi-, meta- and hypolimnion, leaving limited refuge for zooplankton prey.