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Food habits of yellow perch, Perca Flavescens, in West Long Lake, Nebraska.

ABSTRACT

Food-habits data were collected from 102 yellow perch, Perca flavescens, in West Long Lake, Nebraska, from April to October, 2001, to determine if food habits changed seasonally in this shallow, vegetated, natural lake. Based on percent by number and weight, yellow perch in all length groups and during all seasons primarily consumed macro-invertebrates. Yellow perch < 130 mm in total length fed primarily on amphipods and chironomids in all months except October. For perch between 130 and 199 mm, amphipods and chironomids composed greater than 60% of the diet by weight in all months except August. Yellow perch [greater than or equal to] 200 mm primarily consumed macro-invertebrates with fish contributing less than 6% of the diet by weight during all months except June. Knowledge of the trophic ecology of yellow perch in these lentic systems should help biologists better understand the role of perch as both predator and prey.

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The yellow perch, Perca flavescens (Fig. 1), is a popular sport fish in Nebraska Sandhills lakes. While yellow perch can serve as a primary prey for predators (Paukert et al. 2002), they can also be a predator of bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus (Fullhart et al. 2002; Reed and Parsons 1996; Schneider and Breck 1997). Food habits of yellow perch have varied from zooplankton to macro-invertebrates to fish (Clady 1974; Laarman and Schneider 1972; Lott et al. 1996; Schneider 1972; Wolfgang and Mackay 1992). However, little information exists on the seasonal diets of yellow perch in Nebraska Sandhills lakes. Thus, the objective of this study was to describe food habits of small (< 130 mm), medium (130-199 mm), and large ([greater than or equal to] 200 mm) yellow perch in West Long Lake, Nebraska.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

STUDY SITE

West Long Lake is a 25-ha natural lake located on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in Cherry County, Nebraska. Mean depth of West Long Lake is 1.2 m, with a maximum depth of 1.8 m. Submergent vegetation covers approximately 80% of the lake surface during mid-summer. Grasslands completely surround the lake and there are no crops within its watershed (McCarraher 1977).

Yellow perch are common in West Long Lake. Other species present include bluegill; largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides; black bullhead, Ameiurus melas; and the recently established northern pike, Esox lucius, which was first documented in 1998 (Paukert and Willis 2000).

MATERIALS AND METHODS

West Long Lake was sampled by nighttime electrofishing (pulsed DC) in April, June, August, and October of 2001. We collected yellow perch throughout the lake, with a goal to collect seven yellow perch per total length group (< 130 mm, 130-199 mm, [greater than or equal to] 200 mm) each month.

Yellow perch collected by electrofishing were weighed and measured, and food items were removed using an acrylic tube (White 1930). The tube was inserted through the esophagus to the posterior end of the stomach. Visual inspection was made by looking through the tube to see if all food items had been removed (Dubets 1954). Some yellow perch < 130 mm were preserved in 10% formalin and brought back to the laboratory for dissection and removal of the stomach.

In the field, stomach contents were stored in a plastic bag and preserved in 10% formalin. In the laboratory, stomach contents were retained by a 100-[micro]m sieve while water was used to rinse off formalin. Stomach contents were then examined under a dissecting microscope. Stomachs from preserved yellow perch were separated from the digestive tract and the contents were flushed into a petri dish. Aquatic invertebrates were identified to family or order using keys by Merritt and Cummins (1984) and Pennak (1989). Fish were identified using keys developed by Cross and Collins (1995). Prey items that could be distinguished as fish or insects but could not be identified further were labeled as unidentifiable fish remains (UFR) and unidentifiable insect remains (UIR), respectively. Remains that could not be identified as fish, macro-invertebrate, or plant items, were labeled unidentified remains (UR). Frequency of occurrence (number of fish where a specific taxon was present in stomach divided by total number of fish in length group), percent by number (number of taxa divided by total number of food items present in each stomach), and percent by weight (weight of specific taxon divided by total weight of stomach contents in each stomach) were used to describe diets. Zooplankton weights were calculated using weight-length regressions obtained from Dumont et al. (1975). In the laboratory, macro-invertebrates and fish and were weighed to nearest 0.01 g using a digital scale.

RESULTS

Stomach contents were assessed for 102 yellow perch in West Long Lake from April to October of 2001. Based on percent by weight, yellow perch in all length groups primarily consumed macro-invertebrates during all seasons (Fig. 2). Zooplankton were a minor dietary component, while fishes were rarely consumed.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Macro-invertebrates composed the majority of the stomach contents for yellow perch < 130 mm, with cladocerans, unidentifiable remains, and plant material appearing in August and October (Table 1). Chironomids and amphipods dominated (% by number) the stomach contents of yellow perch in this length group, ranging from 64% of the diet in October to 93% in June. Unidentifiable remains (UR) made up the majority (% by weight) of stomach contents in August. Cladocerans composed approximately 33% (by number and by weight) of the stomach contents during October for yellow perch <130 mm.

Although amphipods dominated the diets of 130-199 mm yellow perch in three of the four samples (Table 2), a greater variety of prey taxa appeared in their diets compared to yellow perch < 130 mm. In April, only three prey taxa appeared in the diets of 130-199 mm yellow perch, with amphipods composing 84.6% of the diets by weight. In June, amphipods dominated the diets at nearly 89% by weight, with cladocerans composing 12% of the stomach contents by number but only 1.5% by weight. Chironomids and molluscs dominated the diets in similar proportions by weight during August. In October, amphipods composed greater than 50% by weight of the diet, with fish and chironomids making up an additional 23% by weight. The lone stomach containing fish involved a single bluegill weighing 1.9 g.

Macro-invertebrates again dominated the diets of yellow perch [greater than or equal to] 200 mm in all seasons (Table 3), with a continuing trend of greater prey diversity with increasing perch length. Chironomids and amphipods were primary prey items in June and October. Amphipods composed greater than 85% of the diets by number and weight during April. In August, hemipterans, molluscs, chironomids, and ephemeropterans together composed 69% of the stomach contents by weight. Molluscs were the dominant diet item by weight, followed by plant material that likely was ingested as yellow perch fed on gastropods.

DISCUSSION

Yellow perch apparently exhibit differential roles in various fish communities. For example, yellow perch predation on small bluegills may positively influence bluegill growth and size structure in Minnesota lakes with complex fish communities (Anderson and Schupp 1986; Fullhart et al. 2002; Reed and Parsons 1996). In contrast, yellow perch in eastern South Dakota lakes fed almost exclusively on zooplankton and macro-invertebrates rather than on fishes, even when perch exceeded 200 mm in length (Lott et al. 1996). In our study, yellow perch in West Long Lake primarily fed on macro-invertebrates. We found few fishes in yellow perch stomachs, which confirms speculation by Paukert et al. (2002), who found no evidence of an inverse relationship between abundance of bluegill and yellow perch in a study of 30 Nebraska Sandhills lakes. In fact, they reported that bluegill abundance, size structure, and condition were all positively related to yellow perch abundance, size, and condition. Thus, production of high quality yellow perch populations for angling in Nebraska Sandhills lakes apparently is not dependent on bluegill predation to reduce abundance of small perch. Paukert et al. (2002) suggested that largemouth bass predation may be the most influential factor on yellow perch size structure in Sandhill lakes.
Table 1. Frequency of occurrence (FOC), mean percent by number, and
mean percent by weight for prey items eaten by yellow perch < 130 mm
total length during 2001 at West Long Lake. N represents number of
fish sampled; SE = standard error of the mean; UR = unidentifiable
remains; UIR = unidentifiable insect remains. No small (< 130 mm)
yellow perch were collected during April, 2001.

 % by % by
Month N Prey item FOC number SE weight SE

June 1 Chironomidae 100.0 6.7 6.7 4.3 4.3
 Ephemeroptera 100.0 6.7 6.7 2.9 2.9
 Amphipoda 100.0 86.7 86.7 92.8 92.8

August 5 Chironomidae 100.0 25.4 11.4 7.6 5.4
 Zygoptera 40.0 9.0 6.7 3.0 2.6
 Trichoptera 20.0 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6
 Ephemeroptera 80.0 7.4 3.9 3.4 2.8
 Mollusca 20.0 2.8 2.8 6.6 6.6
 Amphipoda 100.0 54.6 7.7 27.3 10.1
 Cladocera 20.0 0.3 0.3 0.01 0.01
 UR 100.0 . . 51.4 51.4

October 3 Chironomidae 33.3 28.0 28.0 31.6 31.6
 Trichoptera 33.3 1.3 1.3 0.2 0.2
 Amphipoda 66.7 36.0 32.1 34.1 33.0
 Cladocera 33.3 33.3 33.3 33.3 33.3
 UIR 33.3 1.3 1.3 0.2 0.2
 Plant material 33.3 . . 0.5 0.5

Table 2. Frequency of occurrence (FOC), mean percent by number, and
mean percent by weight for prey items eaten by yellow perch 130-199
mm total length during 2001 at West Long Lake. N represents number
of fish sampled; SE = standard error of the mean; UR = unidentifiable
remains; UIR = unidentifiable insect remains.

 % by % by
Month N Prey item FOC number SE weight SE

April 3 Chironomidae 33.3 13.3 13.3 2.0 2.0
 Zygoptera 33.3 11.1 11.1 13.3 13.3
 Amphipoda 100.0 75.6 12.4 84.6 12.4

June 4 Chironomidae 50.0 8.2 4.8 3.5 2.4
 Trichoptera 25.0 0.7 0.7 3.4 3.4
 Ephemeroptera 50.0 1.8 1.1 1.6 1.5
 Hemiptera 25.0 1.1 1.1 1.1 1.1
 Amphipoda 100.0 76.2 9.9 88.9 5.6
 Cladocera 50.0 11.9 7.7 1.5 .9

August 7 Chironomidae 71.4 29.3 11.7 27.3 12.1
 Zygoptera 14.3 0.5 0.5 0.7 0.7
 Trichoptera 28.6 1.1 0.9 1.1 1.0
 Ephemeroptera 57.1 15.1 14.2 3.2 2.9
 Nematomorpha 28.6 0.4 0.3 0.1 0.03
 Lepidoptera 14.3 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.05
 Hemiptera 71.4 20.2 13.6 15.2 14.1
 Mollusca 71.4 15.1 9.9 26.7 14.1
 Amphipoda 42.9 17.7 9.0 11.9 8.3
 UIR 28.6 0.4 0.2 1.4 0.9
 UR 28.6 . . 12.2 11.2
 Plant material 14.3 . . 0.2 0.2

October 7 Chironomidae 85.7 15.5 5.8 8.7 4.7
 Zygoptera 85.7 8.7 4.6 5.7 3.8
 Anisoptera 28.6 0.3 0.2 3.7 3.6
 Trichoptera 28.6 0.1 0.07 0.1 0.07
 Ephemeroptera 28.6 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.06
 Hirudinea 14.3 0.04 0.04 0.2 0.2
 Mollusca 28.6 2.5 2.4 0.4 0.3
 Amphipoda 71.4 52.2 14.0 52.6 15.6
 Cladocera 28.6 3.0 2.9 0.3 0.29
 Fish 14.3 14.3 14.3 14.3 14.3
 UIR 28.6 3.1 2.4 13.8 13.7
 Plant material 42.9 . . 0.2 0.1

Table 3. Frequency of occurrence (FOC), mean percent by number,
and mean percent by weight for prey items eaten by yellow perch
[greater than or equal to] 200 mm total length during 2001 at
West Long Lake. N represents number of fish sampled; SE = standard
error of the mean; UR = unidentifiable remains; UIR = unidentifiable
insect remains.

 % by % by
Month N Prey item FOC number SE weight SE

April 26 Chironomidae 23.1 3.6 3.1 0.7 0.4
 Zygoptera 7.7 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
 Trichoptera 7.7 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1
 Ephemeroptera 7.7 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
 Hirudinea 3.8 0.3 0.3 2.6 2.6
 Mollusca 7.7 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
 Amphipoda 92.3 86.7 5.9 87.5 5.8
 Cladocera 23.1 0.5 0.2 0.003 0.001
 Fish egg 7.7 0.6 0.5 1.1 1.0
 UIR 7.7 7.7 5.3 7.7 5.3

June 15 Chironomidae 80.0 47.7 10.4 43.8 11.0
 Zygoptera 20.0 1.3 .9 2.7 1.9
 Trichoptera 73.7 10.0 4.6 11.1 5.4
 Ephemeroptera 33.3 0.9 0.4 0.6 0.3
 Nematomorpha 6.7 0.1 0.1 0.05 0.05
 Lepidoptera 6.7 0.7 0.7 0.8 0.8
 Hirudinea 20.0 0.6 0.4 5.9 4.7
 Mollusca 20.0 3.8 3.0 6.9 4.6
 Amphipoda 86.7 20.0 7.0 12.8 6.0
 Cladocera 13.3 0.8 0.6 0.0 0.01
 Fish egg 13.3 13.0 8.9 12.4 8.5
 Fish 66.7 1.2 0.3 3.0 1.3

August 16 Chironomidae 62.5 17.4 7.2 12.9 7.2
 Trichoptera 31.3 5.8 3.1 5.3 3.5
 Ephemeroptera 50.0 11.3 6.7 10.5 6.7
 Nematomorpha 12.5 0.1 0.06 0.02 0.01
 Lepidoptera 18.8 0.4 0.3 2.1 2.0
 Hirudinea 6.3 0.0 0.03 0.05 0.05
 Hemiptera 68.7 30.4 8.4 16.9 7.5
 Mollusca 37.5 22.3 8.0 28.8 8.9
 Amphipoda 37.5 3.7 2.0 0.4 0.2
 Cladocera 6.3 5.0 5.0 0.01 0.01
 Copepoda 6.3 0.1 0.1 0.004 0.004
 Fish 6.3 3.1 3.1 . .
 UIR 12.5 0.3 0.2 0.6 0.5
 UR 12.5 . . 0.1 0.1
 Plant material 56.3 . . 22.1 8.9

October 16 Chironomidae 81.3 22.7 7.6 19.3 7.6
 Zygoptera 31.3 2.8 2.5 5.8 5.4
 Anisoptera 6.3 0.1 0.1 2.1 2.1
 Trichoptera 25.0 0.6 0.4 0.4 0.3
 Ephemeroptera 18.8 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1
 Hirudinea 11.5 3.2 3.1 5.9 5.8
 Mollusca 6.3 0.03 0.03 0.01 0.01
 Amphipoda 87.5 64.5 8.8 56.8 9.6
 Cladocera 12.5 0.2 0.1 0.014 0.013
 Copepoda 6.3 0.0 0.03 0.01 0.01
 Fish 12.5 4.4 3.3 5.3 4.8
 UIR 6.3 1.3 1.3 0.3 0.3
 Plant material 62.5 . . 3.8 1.3


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We would like to thank Daryl Bauer and Greg Hesse for their assistance in the field, Darrel Hartman and Doug Graham for logistical support, and Joel Klammer and Andrew Glidden for assistance in the field and sharing of equipment. Valentine National Wildlife Refuge personnel allowed access to the study lake. We also thank Craig Paukert for his input and assistance throughout the duration of the project. This project was funded by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission through Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Project Number F-118-R. This paper was approved for publication by the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station as Journal Series 3302.

LITERATURE CITED

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Dubets, H. 1954. Feeding habits of largemouth bass as revealed by gastroscope. Progressive Fish-Culturist 16: 134-136.

Dumont, H. J., I. Van de Velde, and S. Dumont. 1975. The dry weight estimate of biomass in a selection of cladocera, copepoda and rotifera from the plankton, periphyton andbenthos of continental waters. Oecologia 19: 75-59.

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Lott, J. P., D. W. Willis, and D. O. Lucchesi. 1996. Relationship of food habits to yellow perch growth and population structure in South Dakota lakes. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 11: 27-37.

McCarraher, D. B. 1977. Nebraska's Sandhills Lakes. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration, Project F-54-R, Completion Report, Lincoln.

Merritt, R. W., and K. W. Cummins, editors. 1984. An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America, second edition. Dubuque, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company: 862 pp.

Paukert, C. P., and D. W. Willis. 2000. Factors affecting panfish populations in Nebraska Sandhill lakes. Nebraska Game and Parks Commision, Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration, Project Number F-118-R, Study 1, Job 1, Completion Report, Lincoln.

--, --, and J. A. Klammer. 2002. Effects of predation and environment on quality of yellow perch and bluegill populations in Nebraska Sandhill lakes. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 22: 86-95.

Pennak, R.W. 1989. Freshwater Invertebrates of the United States, 3rd edition. New York, John Wiley and Sons: 628 pp.

Reed, J. R., and B. G. Parsons. 1996. Observations of predation on small bluegill in a Minnesota centrarchid lake. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Section of Fisheries Investigational Report No. 452, St. Paul.

Schneider, J. C. 1972. Dynamics of yellow perch in single species lakes. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Research and Development Report No. 184, Lansing.

--, and J. E. Breck. 1997. Overwinter consumption of bluegills by walleyes and yellow perch. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Research Report No. 1992, Ann Arbor.

White, H. C. 1930. Some observations on eastern brook trout (S. fontinalis) of Prince Edward Island. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 60: 101-105.

Wolfgang, A. J., and W. C. Mackay. 1992. Foraging in yellow perch, Perca flavescens: biological and physical factors affecting diel periodicity in feeding, consumption, and movement. Environmental Biology of Fishes 34: 287-303.

Justin L. Wilkens, Timothy J. DeBates, and David W. Willis

Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

South Dakota State University

Brookings, South Dakota 57007-1696
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Author:Wilkens, Justin L.; DeBates, Timothy J.; Willis, David W.
Publication:Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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