AbstractObjectiveWe investigated foraging success, diet composition, and the abundances of various prey taxa in the diets of larval Freshwater Drum Aplodinotus grunniens across a gradient of bigheaded carp (Bighead Carp Hypophthalmichthys nobilis and Silver Carp H. molitrix) relative abundance and in relation to zooplankton density, temperature, discharge, and larval fish densities in the upper Mississippi River (UMR).MethodsWe sampled fish larvae and zooplankton every 10 days (May–August 2017 and 2018) from UMR Pools 14, 16, and 18–20; collected environmental data from nearby gauging stations; and assessed bigheaded carp relative abundance.ResultCrustacean zooplankton abundance was positively related to larval foraging success. Copepods were the dominant prey, but larvae also consumed large proportions of rotifer eggs and benthic insect larvae. Bigheaded carp presence and catch per unit effort were positively associated with increased larval consumption of atypical prey (rotifer eggs and aquatic insect larvae) and cyclopoid copepods. Cladocerans were the rarest prey consumed by larvae in pools where bigheaded carp were present, but they were more frequently consumed in pools where bigheaded carp were absent. In addition to bigheaded carp abundance, river discharge was negatively associated with larval consumption of cladocerans, aquatic insect larvae, and rotifers; water temperature was negatively associated with the consumption of copepods and cladocerans; and rotifer abundance was positively associated with their consumption.ConclusionWe suggest that bigheaded carp alter larval fish diets to prey that may be less energetically beneficial, which can have implications for larval growth and survival.

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