We conducted a factorial experiment, in outdoor mesocosms, on the effects of zebra mussels and water column mixing (i.e., turbulence) on the diet, growth, and survival of larval fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). Significant (P < 0.05) larval mortality occurred by the end of the experiment with the highest mortality (90%) occurring in the presence of both turbulence and zebra mussels, whereas mortality was 37% in treatment with turbulence and 17% and 18% in the zebra mussels treatment, and the control, respectively. The size of individual fish was significantly different among treatments at the end of the experiment and was inversely related to survival. Levels of trophic resources (i.e., phyto and zooplankton) varied among treatments and were treatment specific. Turbulent mixing facilitated removal of phytoplankton by zebra mussels by making the entire water column of the tanks available to these benthic filter feeders. Early in the experiment (Day = 0 to 14) the physical process of turbulent mixing likely caused a reduction in standing stocks of zooplankton. The interactive effect of turbulence and mussels reduced copepod and rotifer stocks, through physical processes and through filtration by zebra mussels, relative to the turbulence treatment. The reductions in the number of total zooplankton in the turbulent mixing mesocosms and the further reduction of rotifer and copepod in the turbulence and mussels treatment coincided with a period of increased reliance of larval fathead minnows on these prey. Estimates of consumption from bioenergetics modeling and measured prey standing stocks indicated caloric resources of suitable prey in turbulence treatments during the early weeks of the experiment were insufficient to prevent starvation. Early mortality in the turbulence and mussels treatment likely released surviving fish from intense intraspecific competition and resulted in higher individual growth rates. A combination of high abundance of zebra mussels in an environment with a well-mixed water column can have significant effects on larval fish survival and growth.
Additional publication details
Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) limit food for larval fish (Pimephales promelas) in turbulent systems: a bioenergetics analysis