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Lake of flies, or lake of fish? A trophic model of Lake Malawi

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  • Darwall, William R.T.
  • Allison, Edward H.
  • Turner, George F.
  • Irvine, Kenneth

Abstract

Ecosystem-focused models have, for the first time, become available for the combined demersal and pelagic components of a large tropical lake ecosystem, Lake Malawi. These provide the opportunity to explore continuing controversies over the production efficiencies and ecological functioning of large tropical lakes. In Lake Malawi these models can provide important insight to the effect of fishing on fish composition, and the potential competition that the lakefly Chaoborus edulis may have with fisheries production. A mass-balanced trophic model developed for the demersal fish community of the southern and western areas of Lake Malawi was integrated with an existing trophic model developed for the open-water pelagic. Input parameters for the demersal model were obtained from a survey of fish distributions, fish food consumption studies, and from additional published quantitative and qualitative information on the various biotic components of the community. The model was constructed using the Ecopath approach and software. The graphically presented demersal food web spanned four trophic levels and was based primarily on consumption of detritus, zooplankton and sedimented diatoms. Zooplankton was imported into the system at trophic levels three and four through fish predation on carnivorous and herbivorous copepods and Chaoborus larvae. It is proposed that the primary consumption of copepods was by fish migrating into the pelagic zone. Chaoborus larvae in the demersal were probably consumed near the lakebed as they conducted a daily migration from the pelagic to seek refuge in the sediments. This evidence for strong benthic–pelagic coupling provided the opportunity for linking the demersal model to the existing model for the pelagic community so producing the first model for the complete ecosystem. Energy fluxes through the resulting combined model demonstrated that the primary import of biomass to the demersal system was detritus of pelagic origin (72.1%) and pelagic zooplankton (10.6%). Only 15.8% of the biomass consumed within the demersal system was of demersal origin. Lakefly production is efficiently utilised by the lake fish community, and any attempt to improve fishery production through introduction of a non-native plantivorous fish species would have a negative impact on the stability and productivity of the lake ecosystem.

Suggested Citation

  • Darwall, William R.T. & Allison, Edward H. & Turner, George F. & Irvine, Kenneth, 2010. "Lake of flies, or lake of fish? A trophic model of Lake Malawi," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 221(4), pages 713-727.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecomod:v:221:y:2010:i:4:p:713-727
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2009.11.001
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    1. Christensen, V. & Pauly, D. (eds.), 1993. "Trophic models of aquatic ecosystems," Working Papers, The WorldFish Center, number 8432.
    2. Ngatunga, B.P. & Allison, E.H., 1996. "Food consumption/biomass ratios of the pelagic fish community of Lake Malawi/Niassa," Naga, The WorldFish Center, vol. 19(4), pages 36-42.
    3. Moreau, J. & Palomares, M.L.D. & Torres, F.S.B. & Pauly, Daniel, 1995. "Atlas demographique des populations de poissons d'eau douce d'Afrique," Technical Reports 44838, Worldfish Center.
    4. Brey, T., 1999. "A collection of empirical relations for use in ecological modelling," Naga, The WorldFish Center, vol. 22(3), pages 24-28.
    5. Moreau, J. & Palomares, M.L.D. & Torres, F.S.B., Jr. & Pauly, D., 1995. "Atlas demographique des populations de poissons d'eau douce d'Afrique," Working Papers, The WorldFish Center, number 10441.
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