Trophic compression of lake food webs under hydrologic disturbance.
The need to protect biostructure is increasingly recognized, yet empirical studies of how human exploits affect ecological networks are rare. Studying the effects of variation in human disturbance intensity from decades past can help us understand and anticipate ecosystem change under alleviated or amplified disturbance over decades to come. Here, we use stable isotopes and an innovative analytical approach to compare the food webs of two akin lake ecosystems subject to disparate water use regimes, a pervasive, yet unappreciated stressor. We show that intensive water use (persistent, early season, rapid lake-level drawdown) can compress trophic diversity by 46%, necessitating reorganization of biostructural elements configuring lake food webs. Compression occurred over the δ13C axis indicating erosion of basal trophic diversity, but food chain length remained intact over the period and intensity of disturbance examined. This study demonstrates the potential for water use, like other disturbances (warming, eutrophication, and invasive species), to mute opportunity for benthic-pelagic coupling and benefits to lake food webs and the inherent capacity of lake ecosystems to adapt to stress. Trophically compressed lakes may be less able to adapt to intensified water use.