Simultaneous invasion decouples zebra mussels and water clarity

Author: Heidi M. Rantala, Donn K. Branstrator, Jodene K. Hirsch, Thomas S. Jones, Gary Montz
Year: 2022
Digital Object Identifier:

Type: Journal Article
Topic: Biology, Ecosystem Impacts




Species invasions are a leading threat to ecosystems globally, but our understanding of interactions among multiple invasive species and their outcomes on ecosystem properties is undeveloped despite their significance to conservation and management. Here we studied a large lake in Minnesota, USA, that experienced a simultaneous surge in invasive zebra mussel and spiny water flea populations. A long-term (2000–2018) dataset offered a rare opportunity to assess whole-ecosystem shifts following the co-invasion. Within two years, the native crustacean zooplankton community declined abruptly in density and productivity (−93% and −91%, respectively). Summer phytoplankton abundance and water clarity remained stable across the time series, an unexpected outcome given the high density of zebra mussels in the lake. Observational data and modeling indicate that removal of native herbivorous zooplankton by the predatory spiny water flea reduced zooplankton grazing pressure enough to compensate new grazing losses due to zebra mussels, resulting in a zero net effect on phytoplankton abundance and water clarity despite a wholesale shift in secondary production from the pelagic to the benthic food web. This study reveals the extent of direct and indirect effects of two aquatic invaders on food-web processes that cancel shifts in water clarity, a highly valued ecosystem service.