The effects of land use disturbance vary with trophic position in littoral cichlid fish communities from Lake Tanganyika

Britton, A. W., Murrell, D. J., McGill, R. A.R. , Doble, C. J., Ramage, C. I. and Day, J. J. (2019) The effects of land use disturbance vary with trophic position in littoral cichlid fish communities from Lake Tanganyika. Freshwater Biology, 64(6), pp. 1114-1130. (doi: 10.1111/fwb.13287)

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1. Impacts of anthropogenic disturbance are especially severe in freshwater ecosystems. In particular, land use disturbance can lead to increased levels of pollution, including elevated nutrient and sediment loads whose negative impacts range from the community to the individual level. However, few studies have investigated if these impacts are uniform across species represented by multiple trophic levels. To address this knowledge gap, we focused on Lake Tanganyika cichlid fishes, which comprise hundreds of species representing a wide range of feeding strategies. Cichlids are at their most diverse within the near‐shore environment; however, land use disturbance of this environment has led to decreasing diversity, particularly in herbivores. We therefore tested if there is a uniform effect of pollution across species and trophic groups within the hyper‐diverse rocky shore cichlid fish community. 2. We selected three sites with differing levels of human impact along the Tanzanian coastline and 10 cichlid species, comprising varying taxonomic and trophic groups, common to these sites. Nitrogen and carbon stable isotope values for 528 samples were generated and analysed using generalised linear mixed models. We also estimated stomach contents including sediment proportions. 3. Our study highlights that multiple sources of pollution are having differing effects across species within a diverse fish community. We found that nitrogen stable isotope values were significantly higher at the most disturbed (urbanised) site for benthic feeding species, whereas there was no difference in these isotopes between sites for the water column feeding trophic group. Stomach contents revealed that the elevated δ15N values were unlikely to have been caused by differences in diet between sites. However, at the most disturbed site, higher proportions of sediment were present in most herbivores, irrespective of foraging behaviour. 4. It is likely that anthropogenic nitrogen loading is the cause of higher nitrogen stable isotope values since there was no evidence of species shifting trophic levels between sites. Results support our previous study showing herbivore species to be most affected by human disturbance and make the link to pollution much more explicit. As lower diversity of consumers can negatively affect ecosystem processes such as stability, alleviating environmental impact through sewage treatment and afforestation programmes should continue to be a global priority for the conservation of aquatic ecosystems, as well as human health.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was supported by NERC grants (NE/L009005/1, NE/L002485/1), NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility grant (EK277‐13/16) (AWB, JJD), Percy Sladen Memorial Trust Fund (JJD), and the Fisheries Society of the British Isles (AWB).
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:McGill, Dr Rona
Authors: Britton, A. W., Murrell, D. J., McGill, R. A.R., Doble, C. J., Ramage, C. I., and Day, J. J.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:Freshwater Biology
ISSN (Online):1365-2427
Published Online:01 April 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Authors
First Published:First published in Freshwater Biology 64(6):1114-1130
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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