Non-target effects of a novel invasive species management strategy: benthic invertebrate responses to lake trout embryo suppression in Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming
Briggs, Michelle Anne
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Invasive species threaten native biodiversity and ecosystem function, and suppression is often required to reduce these effects. However, invasive species management actions can cause harmful, unintended consequences for non-target taxa. In Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming, invasive lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) have reduced abundance of the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri), decreasing availability of an important food source for aquatic and terrestrial predators. Gillnets are used to suppress adult lake trout, and the lake trout carcasses are then deposited onto spawning sites in the littoral zone to cause embryo mortality by reducing dissolved oxygen concentrations as they decay. However, this management action may have non-target effects on organisms in the lake, including benthic invertebrates, which comprise a large portion of native trout diets. Some taxa of invertebrates may benefit from the addition of nutrients to the littoral zone, while other taxa may experience mortality in response to low dissolved oxygen conditions caused by carcass decay. We conducted two field experiments to understand how carcass treatment affects benthic invertebrates in Yellowstone Lake. First, we conducted an in situ experiment with individual invertebrates housed in small chambers covered by carcasses to determine if carcass treatment causes mortality of hypoxia-tolerant amphipods and hypoxia-sensitive caddisflies. We found that carcass treatment caused increased mortality in caddisflies but not amphipods. Second, we conducted a field experiment to investigate how carcass treatment affects invertebrate communities when applied at entire spawning sites. We also compared invertebrate communities at cobble-dominated lake trout spawning sites to macrophyte-dominated sites to determine if carcass treatment could alter food web dynamics at a lake-wide scale. We found that carcass treatment causes non-target effects on benthic invertebrates, specifically reducing immobile taxa, hypoxia-sensitive taxa, and Chironomidae, and altering community structure. Areas dominated by macrophytes had more abundant and larger invertebrates than spawning sites. Due to the small spatial extent of spawning sites and the higher abundance of invertebrates at other habitats in the lake, we conclude carcass treatment can have localized non-target effects at a local scale but is unlikely to alter food-web dynamics at a lake-wide scale.