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Keywords:

  • hierarchical Bayesian model;
  • invasive species;
  • lake food web;
  • stable isotopes;
  • trophic niche

Summary

1. The introduction of invasive species is one of the main threats to global biodiversity, ecosystem structure and ecosystem processes. In freshwaters, invasive crayfish alter macroinvertebrate community structure and destroy macrophyte beds. There is limited knowledge on how such invasive species-driven changes affect consumers at higher trophic levels.

2. In this study, we explore how the invasive rusty crayfish Orconectes rusticus, a benthic omnivore, affects benthic macroinvertebrates, as well as the broader consequences for ecosystem-level trophic flows in terms of fish benthivory and trophic position (TP). We expected crayfish to decrease abundance of benthic macroinvertebrates, making most fish species less reliant on benthic resources. We expected crayfish specialists (e.g. Lepomis sp. and Micropterus sp.) to increase their benthic dependence.

3. In 10 northern Wisconsin lakes, we measured rusty crayfish relative abundance (catch per unit effort, CPUE), macroinvertebrate abundance, and C and N stable isotope ratios of 11 littoral fish species. We used stable isotope data and mixing models to characterise the trophic pathways supporting each fish species, and related trophic structure to crayfish relative abundance, fish body size and abiotic predictors using hierarchical Bayesian models.

4. Benthic invertebrate abundance was negatively correlated with rusty crayfish relative abundance. Fish benthivory increased with crayfish CPUE for all 11 fish species; posterior probabilities of a positive effect were >95%. TP also increased slightly with crayfish CPUE for some species, particularly smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass and Johnny darter. Moreover, both fish body size and lake abiotic variables explained variation in TP, while their effects on benthivory were small.

5. Rusty crayfish abundance explained relatively little of the overall variation in fish benthivory and TP. Although rusty crayfish appear to have strong effects on abundances of benthic macroinvertebrates, energy flow pathways and trophic niches of lentic fishes were not strongly influenced by invasive rusty crayfish.