The rapid effects of a whole-lake reduction of coarse woody debris on fish and benthic macroinvertebrates

M. R. Helmus, Greg G. Sass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. Ecosystems can enhance the biodiversity of adjacent ecosystems through subsidies of prey, nutrients and also habitat. For example, trees can fall into aquatic ecosystems and act as a subsidy that increases aquatic habitat heterogeneity. This habitat subsidy is vulnerable in lakes where anthropogenic development of shorelines coincides with a thinning of riparian forests and the removal of these dead trees (termed coarse woody debris: CWD). How the disruption of this subsidy affects lake ecosystems is not well understood. 2. We performed a whole ecosystem experiment on Little Rock Lake, a small (18 ha), undeveloped, and unfished lake in Vilas County, WI, U.S.A., that is divided into two similar-sized basins by a double poly-vinyl chloride curtain that prevents both fish and water exchange between basins. In 2002, we removed about 70% of the littoral CWD in the treatment basin, while the reference basin was left unaltered. We tested for changes in both fish and benthic macroinvertebrate community composition in the two years following the CWD reduction. 3. Yellow perch (Perca flavescens) was the most abundant fish species in the lake prior to our experiment, but declined to very low densities in the treatment basin after manipulation. We found no evidence of an effect on macroinvertebrates - the treatment basin's macroinvertebrate community composition, diversity and density did not change relative to the reference basin. 4. Our results indicate that different trophic groups may have differential responses to the loss of a habitat subsidy, even if anthropogenic effects on that subsidy are severe. In the case of Little Rock Lake, fish community responses were evident on a short-time scale, whereas the macroinvertebrate community did not rapidly change following CWD reduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1423-1433
Number of pages11
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • INHS
  • Yellow perch
  • Largemouth bass
  • Whole ecosystem manipulation
  • Little Rock Lake
  • Habitat subsidy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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