1. In situ exclosure experiments in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers determined the importance of fish predation in regulating zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), an increasingly important constituent of the benthic invertebrate assemblages in both rivers. 2. We evaluated the effects of predatory fish on the density, biomass and size distribution of zebra mussels in a floodplain reach of the upper Mississippi River and in a naturally constrained reach of the Ohio River. Fifty, six-sided, predator-exclusion cages and fifty 'partial' cages (mesh at the upstream end only) were deployed, with half the cages containing willow snags and half clay tiles suspended 12-16 cm above the bottom. A single snag or tile sample unit was removed from each cage at approximately monthly intervals from July to October 1994. Types and relative abundances of molluscivorous fish were evaluated by electrofishing near the cages in both rivers. Actual and potential recruitment of young zebra mussels on to the substrata were measured using benthic samples in both rivers and estimated (Ohio River only) from counts of planktonic veligers. 3. Zebra mussels were consumed by at least three fish species in the upper Mississippi River (mostly carp, Cyprinus carpio, and redhorse suckers, Moxostoma sp.) and five species in the Ohio River (primarily smallmouth buffalo, Ictiobus bubalus, and channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus), but potential recruitment seemed adequate to replace consumed mussels, at least in the Ohio River. The number of juvenile benthic mussels showed no apparent link with the density of veligers soon after initiation of reproduction. Recruitment of juveniles on snags and tiles was not affected by cage type (thus eliminating a potentially confounding 'cage effect'). 4. Fish significantly influenced mussel populations, but the impact was often greatest among low density populations in the upper Mississippi. Density and biomass differed in both rivers for cage type (higher inside cages), substratum (greater on tiles), and date (increased over time). Presumed size-selective predation was present in the Mississippi (greater on larger size classes) but was not evident in the Ohio. We hypothesize that fish in the Mississippi can more easily select larger prey from the low density populations; whereas size-selective predation on tightly packed zebra mussels in the Ohio would be difficult. 5. Although fish can reduce numbers of Dreissena polymorpha in the two rivers, current levels of fish predation seem insufficient to regulate zebra mussel densities because of its great reproductive capacity. The recent invasion of zebra mussels, however, could lead to larger fish populations while promoting greater carbon retention and overall ecosystem secondary production.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science