Effects of ontogeny and invasive crayfish on feeding ecology and mercury concentrations of predatory fishes.
Lake food web structure dictates the flow of energy and contaminants to top predators, and addition of invasive species can shift these flows. We examined trophic position (TP), proportional reliance on the littoral zone (Proplittoral), and mercury (Hg) concentrations across the life-span of two predatory fishes, walleye (Sander vitreus) and northern pike (Esox lucius), in lakes with and without invasive virile crayfish (Faxonius virilis). The littoral zone was the dominant foraging zone for both species regardless of size, accounting for 59% and 80% of the diet of walleye and pike, respectively. Both species increased in TP and Hg with body size, as did crayfish. Walleye in crayfish-present lakes had lower Proplittoral, TP, and Hg concentrations compared with non-present lakes, but trophic magnification of Hg through the food web was consistent across all six lakes. These findings underscore a strong role for the littoral zone in channeling energy and contaminants to higher trophic levels and how invasive species can occupy new habitats at low abundance while altering food web structure and contaminant bioaccumulation.