Stable isotopes and morphology reveal spatial and annual patterns in trophic reliance of an invertivorous juvenile fish

Taylor J. Senegal, Timothy M. Sesterhenn, Charles R. Roswell, Steven A. Pothoven, Tomas O. Höök

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ecological studies have traditionally treated fish species or populations as homogenous groups; however, numerous studies have shown that intrapopulation variation in resource use is widespread. Within-species diet differences are evident in small and large freshwater systems and may influence trophic and population dynamics. In a previous study of young yellow perch, spatial intrapopulation diet variation was observed for stomach contents, a relatively short-term diet indicator. In the current study, we build upon the earlier study of yellow perch in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron, and assess patterns of long-term diet indicators (stable isotopes and morphology) to assess consistency of diet variation over time and improve characterisation of trophic differences among sites. Specifically, we analysed soft tissue samples for carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope ratios and used geometric morphometrics to describe morphological variation of young yellow perch. While both isotopes displayed significant spatial differences, δ15N values demonstrated a much clearer separation among sites, with greater δ15N values for yellow perch collected closer to the mouth of the Saginaw River. Morphological variation also was more apparent among sites rather than between years or months, with more streamlined yellow perch morphologies evident at sites where they consumed high proportions of zooplankton relative to benthic invertebrates. Somewhat unexpectedly, soft tissue δ13C values varied strongly between the two study years; however, the ultimate cause of such interannual variation in δ13C is unclear. These long-term indicators showed consistent spatial differences, which suggests that individual fish are using resources at a particular site long enough to reflect a stable isotope or morphological signal. Yellow perch production at different locations seemingly relies on different prey resources, suggesting that annual variation in dominant trophic pathways may alter the performance of yellow perch at each location.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-221
Number of pages11
JournalEcology of Freshwater Fish
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Saginaw Bay
  • intrapopulation variation
  • morphology
  • stable isotope
  • trophic ecology
  • yellow perch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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