Effects of menhaden predation on plankton populations in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

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The Atlantic menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus, is an abundant plankton-feeding fish that undertakes extensive seasonal migrations, moving from overwintering locations offshore south of Cape Hatteras to the mid-Atlantic Bight and New England inshore waters during spring and summer. A bioenergetic model, based on field and laboratory studies, shows that when large numbers of menhaden enter Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, during spring and early summer, they significantly influence plankton populations through size-selective grazing and nutrient regeneration. A population biomass of 9.1 x 106 kg of menhaden feeding for 12 h each day in the upper bay would result in a substantial reduction of the instantaneous growth rate of the >20-μm phytoplankton. Instantaneous growth rates of zooplankton would be negative if the same population of menbaden was present, resulting in a reduction in the biomass of zooplankton. Given the ambient phytoplankton and zooplankton populations, menhaden could achieve the seasonal growth measured in Narragansett Bay during 1976 by feeding on average about 5 h d-1. Daily nitrogen excretion rates of the 9.1 X 106 kg menhaden population were 56.4% of the mean standing stock of ammonia-N in the upper bay. Because menhaden travel in schools their effects are likely to be intense but strongly localized, increasing spatial heterogeneity in the ecosystem. When the fish migrate southward in the fall they transfer between 3.3% and 6.2% of the nitrogen exported annually from the bay.

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