We documented patterns of age-structured biotic interactions in four mesocosm experiments with an assemblage of three species of co-occurring fishes from the Florida Everglades, the eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna), and bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei). These species were chosen based on their high abundance and overlapping diets. Juvenile mosquitofish and sailfin mollies, at a range of densities matching field estimates, were maintained in the presence of adult mosquitofish, sailfin mollies, and bluefin killifish to test for effects of competition and predation on juvenile survival and growth. The mesocosms held 1,200 1 of water and all conditions were set to simulate those in Shark River Slough, Everglades National Park (ENP), USA. We placed floating mats of periphyton and bladderwort in each tank in standard volumes that matched field values to provide cover and to introduce invertebrate prey. Of 15 possible intra- and interspecific age-structured interactions, we found 7 to be present at the densities of these fish found in Shark River Slough marshes. Predation by adult mosquitofish on juvenile fish, including conspecifics, was the strongest effect observed. We also observed growth limitation in mosquitofish and sailfin molly juveniles from intra- and interspecific competition. When maintained at high densities, juvenile mosquitofish changed their diets to include more cladocerans and fewer chironomid larvae relative to low densities. We estimated size-specific gape limitation by adult mosquitofish when consuming juvenile mosquitofish and sailfin mollies. At high field densities, intraspecific competition might prolong the time period when juveniles are vulnerable to predation by adult mosquitofish. These results suggest that path analysis, or other techniques used to document food-web interactions, must include age-specific roles of these fishes.
Additional publication details
Separating the effects of intra- and interspecific age-structured interactions in an experimental fish assemblage