Influences of predatory fish on the drift dispersal and local density of stream insects

  • Forrester G
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Researchers have recently suggested that frequent prey dispersal into and out of an area can swamp the local effect of predation. Where prey are mobile, the extent of prey movement can therefore explain variation in the apparent effect of predators on local prey density. I compared the effect of the dominant predator in a temperate stream (brook charr, Salelinus fontinalis Mitchill) on five insect prey taxa (mayflies: Ephemer- optera), to test the prediction that the extent of density reduction should be less for prey taxa dispersing more frequently. The propensity of the mayflies to disperse by drifting downstream in the water column was measured in unmanipulated areas of the stream. Relative propensity to drift of the five mayflies was, from greatest to least: Baetis, Paraleptophlebia, Ephemerella, Eurylo- phella, Stenoneina. I then tested effects of charr on the mayflies by manipulating charr density in fenced 35-m sections of the stream. Charr densities were adjusted to zero, medium, and high levels relative to natural densities. Rates of predation by charr in stream sections did not vary among the five mayfly taxa. Charr caused a large reduction in the density of Baetis, had a smaller effect on Paraleptophlebia, but had no detectable effect on the density of the other mayflies. Drift dispersal into the stream sections did not differ among charr densities. Effects of charr on prey densities could thus have been caused by direct predation or by increases in emigration from areas containing charr. Charr caused increased drift dispersal of Baetis and of Paraleptophlebia, but had no influence on drift of the other three mayflies. The reduction in density of Baetis by charr was due more to the charr-induced increase in drifting of Baetis than to direct predation on Baetis. The hypothesis that frequent prey dispersal swamps the effects of predators assumes that predators influence prey density primarily by consuming prey. In this system charr also influenced prey densities by causing increases in prey drift rates, affecting the mayflies that drifted most frequently. For this reason, the mayflies drifting less frequently were not, as predicted, the ones most strongly affected by charr. Variation in the effect of predators on prey density may thus be partially explained by both (1) changes in prey dispersal not related to predators, as proposed in the initial hypothesis, and (2) influences of predators on prey dispersal.

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