Patterns in the species composition and richness of fish assemblages in northern Wisconsin lakes

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  • Fish assemblage structure, and factors and mechanisms appearing important in the ecological maintenance of these structures, were examined for 18 small lakes in northern Wisconsin during summer and winter. The study was focused around the following questions. Are there discrete, repeatable groups of fish assemblages? If so, are they temporally stable? What are the relations between fish assemblage structure and habitat complexity, physical disturbance, biotic interactions, and the insular nature of small lakes? A comparative approach was used to generate hypotheses and propose explanations concerning the roles of these factors in structuring the assemblages. Multivariate classification, ordination, and discriminant analyses helped discern two assemblage types: Umbra-cyprinid and centrarchid-Esox. Each had a distinctive species composition and seasonal change in composition. Environmental characteristics of the lakes occupied by each assemblage type also differed consistently. The type of assemblage present in a lake appeared related to oxygen concentrations in winter, interacting with the availability of refuges from either a severe physical environment (low oxygen during winter) or from large piscivores. Centrarchid-Esox assemblages occurred in lakes with high winter oxygen levels, and also in lakes with low oxygen levels if a stream or connecting lake could provide a refuge from these conditions in winter. When no refuge was present, low winter oxygen lakes lacked piscivorous fishes, but contained Umbra-cyprinid assemblages. The relationships between species richness in summer and environmental factors were generally similar for the two assemblage types, but the relative importance of individual factors differed. In winter, richness relationships in centrarchid-Esox assemblages for most environmental factors were reversed from those of summer. No significant seasonal change occurred in the Umbra-cyprinid assemblages. Habitat complexity factors, particularly vegetation diversity, were significantly related to summer species richness in both assemblage types. Lake area was also related to summer richness for both types, but the slope of the species-area regression was much steeper for Umbra-cyprinid assemblages than for those in centrarchid-Esox lakes. Species richness relationships with winter oxygen concentration were negative in both seasons in Umbra-cyprinid lakes, but the relationship was positive for centrarchid-Esox assemblages in winter. A measure of lake connectedness was related to summer richness in centrarchid-Esox lakes. These patterns suggest that centrarchid-Esox assemblages are in ecological equilibrium but that a disturbance-induced disequilibrium occurs in Umbra-cyprinid assemblages.

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    © 1982 Ecological Society of America. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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    • Tonn, W. M., & Magnuson, J. J. (1982). Patterns in the species composition and richness of fish assemblages in northern Wisconsin lakes. Ecology, 63(4), 1149-1166. DOI: 10.2307/1937251.