Walleye growth declines following zebra mussel and Bythotrephes invasion.
Invasive species represent a threat to aquatic ecosystems globally; however, impacts can be heterogenous across systems. Documented impacts of invasive zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and spiny water fleas (Bythotrephes cederströmii; hereafter Bythotrephes) on native fishes are variable and context dependent across locations and time periods. Here, we use a hierarchical Bayesian analysis of a 35-year dataset on two fish species from 9 lakes to demonstrate that early life growth of ecologically important fishes are influenced by these aquatic invasive species. Walleye (Sander vitreus) in their first year of life grew more slowly in the presence of either invader after correcting for temperature (measured by degree days), and were on average 12 or 14% smaller at the end of their first summer following invasion by Bythotrephes or zebra mussels, respectively. Yellow perch (Perca flavescens) growth was less affected by invasion. Yellow perch on average grew more slowly in their first year of life following invasion by zebra mussels, although this effect was not statistically distinguishable from zero. Early life growth of both walleye and yellow perch was less tightly coupled to degree days in invaded systems, as demonstrated by increased variance surrounding the degree day-length relationship. Smaller first-year size is related to walleye survival and recruitment to later life stages and has important implications for lake food webs and fisheries management. Future research quantifying effects of zebra mussels and Bythotrephes on other population-level processes and across a wider gradient of lake types is needed to understand the mechanisms driving observed changes in walleye growth.