Habitat use by bluegill Lepomis macrochirus may be dictated by the avoidance of predators and the availability of prey. Previous work suggests that bluegills large enough to avoid predators will select habitats based on foraging profitability. However, these studies focused on smaller fish (<150 mm standard length) in laboratory experiments or in natural systems with distinct vegetated and open-water habitats. Our objective was to use radio telemetry to determine monthly and diel vegetation selection by larger (>200 mm total length [TL]) bluegills in a shallow (mean depth = 1.2 m), 332-ha, natural lake (Pelican Lake, Nebraska) with both emergent and submergent vegetation distributed throughout. A total of 78 bluegills (200-273 mm TL) were implanted with radio transmitters and relocated daily for 6 d per month (April-September); up to 20 of the tagged fish were relocated every 2 h for a 24-h period once each month. Regardless of diel period, bluegills used open-water, emergent vegetation, submergent vegetation, and mixed emergent - submergent vegetation habitat types in similar proportions. During April, June, and July, male bluegills positively selected emergent vegetation, whereas female bluegills showed no vegetation selection preference during any month. Throughout the study period, bluegills never avoided open-water habitats, suggesting that larger individuals may continue to use open-water habitats in proportion to their availability. In addition, emergent vegetation appeared to be important, particularly for male bluegills. Although the mechanism for the positive selection of emergent vegetation by males was unclear, the protection or enhancement of such habitats may facilitate the preservation of quality bluegill populations in shallow lakes.
Additional publication details
Seasonal and diel habitat selection by bluegills in a shallow natural lake