Fish Reliance on Littoral–Benthic Resources and the Distribution of Primary Production in Lakes

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Pelagic, littoral, and terrestrial resources can all play a role in supporting consumers in lakes. The role of benthic algal-derived food web pathways in lakes is perhaps the least understood because limnologists have historically focused on pelagic (open-water) production and processes. We compiled carbon stable isotope data from 546 fish populations (75 lakes), and used a two end-member mixing model to calculate littoral–benthic reliance for each fish species in each lake. Fish littoral–benthic reliance values were averaged by lake to assess overall fish species benthic reliance for each lake. Lake-specific mean littoral reliance (BRL; fish species not weighted according to production or biomass) averaged 57% and was independent of lake morphological and limnological attributes. For these same lakes, water column nutrients, light, and morphometry data were used to estimate whole-lake benthic algal and phytoplankton primary production. On average, benthic algae comprised 36% of whole-lake primary production (BPf = 0.36). BPf and BRL were weakly correlated: BRL tends to be high even in large/deep lakes in which benthic algae is a minor contributor to whole-lake primary production. The high littoral–benthic contribution to individual fish species appears to reflect the high concentration of fish species diversity in the littoral zone. Our work cannot be extrapolated to whole-lake fish production. However, the result is consistent with other work indicating that most fish species inhabit the littoral zone, whereas relatively few exclusively inhabit the pelagic. Our results suggest that it takes less primary production to support a single fish species in the littoral zone than is required to support a species in the pelagic.



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