Direct and indirect effects of predators on the dominant invertebrates of two freshwater littoral communities

Catherine Blois-Heulin, Philip H. Crowley, Margarett Arrington, Dan M. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Two congeneric damselfly species, Enallagma traviatum and E. aspersum, dominate the littoral macroinvertebrates of Bays Mountain Lake and of the adjacent fish-free Ecology Pond, respectively (northeastern Tennessee, USA). Extending previous experimental studies, we test seven hypotheses concerning the role of fish (bluegill sunfish, Lepomis macrochirus) and larvaldragonfly (Anax junius) predation, competitive effects on damselflies, and the interaction between competition and predation, in determining invertebrate dominance in these communities. Three types of experiments were conducted: an enclosure experiment within Ecology Pond, an outdoor replicated tub experiment, and a laboratory behavior experiment. The in-situ enclosure experiment showed that E. traviatum larvae were more susceptible to Anax predation than were E. aspersum larvae; a tendency toward greater vulnerability to fish of E. aspersum compared with E. traviatum was not statistically significant. The outdoor tub experiment confirmed both of these trends with statistically significant results. In the tubs, both predators inhibited feeding of both zygopterans (as indicated by reduced fecal mass), particularly for E. aspersum in the presence of fish. This effect appears to have been primarily indirect, mediated through exploitation of the zooplankton. We also detected competitive effects of E. traviatum on E. aspersum: E. traviatum reduced the emergence and increased the exposure above the substrate of E. aspersum. In the absence of predators, E. traviatum inhibited feeding of E. aspersum via interference. In the laboratory behavior experiment, predators inhibited crawling by E. aspersum. E. aspersum was more exposed than was E. traviatum; it swam and crawled more than did E. traviatum, considerably increasing these movements at night. Over all, E. traviatum consistently appeared to be the more cryptic of the two species, and E. aspersum appeared to be much more active. Our results suggest an explanation for the clear difference in structure between communities like Bays Mountain Lake and Ecology Pond: predaceous fish eliminate large invertebrate predators and shift the community toward cryptic forms at relatively low densities, reflecting the effects of both predation and exploitation competition. In the absence of fish, large invertebrate predators are less able to deplete littoral invertebrates but may favor the more active forms, perhaps because these are better able to avoid invertebrate predators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-306
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1990


  • Community structure
  • Competition
  • Indirect effects
  • Predation
  • Prey behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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