The competitive edge of an invading specialist
Introduced species represent major threats to native and natural biodiversity. On the other hand, biologists may increase the understanding of ecological interactions by following communities during establishment of exotic species. Accordingly, feeding ecology and habitat use were studied in native whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) and recently invading vendace (C. albula) in two lake localities situated 50 km apart within the subarctic Pasvik River system, northern Norway and Russia. Whitefish originally dominated the native fish communities of both lakes. The recent invasion and successive downstream expansion of vendace allowed comparisons between two sites: one in which the influence of the new potential competitor on the native fish species was weak, and one in which the influence was strong. In the downstream lake vendace was recorded for the first time at the time of the study, and only in small numbers, whereas in the upstream lake vendace had established a high population density and was the dominant fish species in the pelagic zone. No vertical segregation in pelagic habitat use was found between the two fish species in either lake. In the downstream lake both whitefish and vendace fed exclusively on zooplankton and had almost identical diets. In the upstream lake, in contrast, whitefish fed predominantly on zoobenthos and surface insects, while vendace fed mainly on zooplankton. Thus, the strong presence of vendace as a specialized planktivore reduced the availability of zooplankton as prey for the more generalist whitefish. The food segregation between the two fish species in the upstream lake was apparently interactive and caused by a strong asymmetrical competition for zooplankton, vendace being the superior species. The ecological consequences (including reduced zooplankton size and species diversity, alteration of the pelagic food web, and eutrofication as a possible cascading effect on the primary production) of the vendace invasion in the Pasvik watercourse are considerable, even after a few years, and are likely to proceed and intensify in the future.
The following article, Bøhn, T. & Amundsen, P.-A. (2001). The competitive edge of an invading specialist. Ecology, 82(8), 2150-2163, can be accessed at https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/19399170. Copyright by the Ecological Society of America.