Predicting species' vulnerability in a massively perturbed system: The fishes of Lake Turkana, Kenya

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© 2015 Gownaris et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Background and Trophic Diversity Study: Lake Turkana is an understudied desert lake shared by Kenya and Ethiopia. This system is at the precipice of large-scale changes in ecological function due to climate change and economic development along its major inflowing river, the Omo River. To anticipate response by the fish community to these changes, we quantified trophic diversity for seven ecological disparate species (Alestes baremose, Hydrocynus forskalli, Labeo horie, Lates niloticus, Oreochromis niloticus, Synodontis schall, and Tilapia zillii) using stable isotopes. Based on their marked morphological differentiation, we postulated that dietary niches of these species would be similar in size but show little overlap. The degree of trophic diversity varied greatly among the species studied, refuting our hypothesis regarding dietary niche size. Oreochromis niloticus and L. niloticus had the highest trophic diversity and significantly larger dietary niches than T. zillii, A. baremose and H. forskalli. Low overlap among the dietary niches of the seven species, with the exception of the synodontid catfish S. schall, is consistent with our second hypothesis. Predicting Species' Vulnerability: Breeding vulnerability was highest among those species with the lowest trophic diversity. We predict that in suffering two strikes against them, A. baremose, H. forskalli, T. zillii, and L. horiewill be most affected by the highly altered Lake Turkana ecosystem and that O. niloticus, L. niloticus and S. schall will be least affected. Low vulnerability among O. niloticus and L. niloticus is promising for the future of the lake's fishery, but the third most important fishery species (L. horie) will be highly vulnerable to impending ecosystem change. T. zillii should be treated as separate from O. niloticus in the fishery given higher sensitivity and a different ecological role. We see potential for expansion of the fishery for S. schallbut don't recommend the development of a fishery for A. baremose and H. forskalli.




Gownaris, N. J., Pikitch, E. K., Ojwang, W. O., Michener, R., & Kaufman, L. (2015). Predicting species’ vulnerability in a massively perturbed system: The fishes of Lake Turkana, Kenya. PLoS ONE, 10(5).

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