Trophic Ecology of Smallmouth Bass in Hierarchical Stream Networks
Oliver Nettere, E. William Hamilton, Ryan J. Woodland, and Robert Humston
Abstract.—Prey selection and diet are highly plastic and can vary with temporal and spatial differences in competition or prey availability. This study investigated the possibility that the trophic position of Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu might change in response to systematic, hierarchical variation in community structure in stream networks. We hypothesized that a shift toward increased insectivory and decreased piscivory would be observed in smaller streams, resulting in a lower trophic position of Smallmouth Bass and reflecting differences in community structure and prey availability. We applied a combination of diet analyses and stable isotope methods to compare prey selection and trophic position of Smallmouth Bass across a range of stream sizes. Stable isotope analyses indicated that Smallmouth Bass trophic position was slightly elevated in smaller watersheds, contradicting our initial hypothesis. However, differences in average trophic position in watershed size categories were small (ranging from 3.6 to 3.8) and of limited ecological significance. Isotopic niche width did not vary among stream size categories, and gut content analyses revealed no differences in frequency of occurrence of fish, crayfish, or insects (larvae and adults). Collectively these results indicate that trophic position, and perhaps trophic niche, of Smallmouth Bass are consistent across hierarchical variation in stream size and habitat.