Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Whitledge, Gregory


In rivers that shift in their natural or modified physical structure, it is expected that organisms alter their resource use with the shifts in physical changes. The Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) is a modified river basin and stark contrasts in both the physical structure of habitat types and biological structure in the types of organisms present exist spatially. The upper reaches of the basin contain more complex habitat types than the lower reaches which suggests resource use of fishes likely differs at least between upper and lower reaches. To date, the resource use of some commercially important, invasive, and imperiled species has been studied. However, little information regarding resource use exists for most native fishes. Understanding resource use and how it differs across time and space would benefit managers of the UMRS as programs are underway to restore and manage the system. To determine how resource use of native fishes differs spatially and temporally in the UMRS, I quantified resource use of ten native fishes across six reaches of the UMRS using multiple techniques. At the largest spatial and temporal scale, I quantified the natal origins of six prey and two predatory fishes using trace element analysis. At a seasonal scale, I quantified the collective resource use of eight species using carbon and nitrogen isotopes to compare isotopic niche space, niche overlap, and community metrics. At the shortest scale, I quantified the diets of two predatory species that are thought to compete with one another. Both large scale similarities and nuances in resource use existed in the UMRS depending on the spatial and temporal contexts. At the longest scale, fishes consistently used network connectivity as tributaries and other mainstem river reaches contributed recruits to the mainstem river. However, the percentage of individuals resulting from network connectivity and the specific rivers that lent the recruits differed among species and reaches. Particularly, large tributaries like the Minnesota and Missouri rivers contributed relatively high numbers of recruits to nearby reaches compared to other tributaries, and the most downstream reaches had the greatest contributions from network connectivity. Prey fishes recruited more often from tributaries than predators whereas consumed prey and prey collected directly from the UMRS had similar origins which were consistent across years. At a seasonal scale, breadth of resource use of individual species and the assemblage and some community metrics increased whereas overlap decreased moving downstream in the UMRS. This shift in resource use metrics coincides with shifts in the physical structure of the system. At the shortest scale, diet compositions of the two predators were similar to one another and spatially among upper reaches in the UMRS. These two predators likely coexist in part due to diet plasticity and prey size allocations that differ between species. Additionally, the relative physical homogeneity of the upper reaches of the UMRS may have led to the spatial similarity in prey use. Together, these results suggest the physical structure of the system impacted the resource use of fishes, where trophic niches and use of network connectivity shifted with the shift in physical structure of the Mississippi River. At a minimum, spatial gradients in isotopic niches and percentage of individuals coming from network connectivity suggest the resource use of fishes in downstream reaches at seasonal and life-long scales differs from the upstream reaches within this system. These differences could stem from longitudinal or functional process zone shifts in the physical structure which cannot be determined given these data. In the context of management of the system, fishes use network connectivity to at least some degree across all species and sampling reaches, indicating that the connectivity in the system should at least be maintained if not improved. Additionally, fish move among reaches (i.e., through lock and dams) and tributaries, which highlights the need for interjurisdictional management not just in the UMRS but in nearby tributary systems like the Minnesota and Missouri River where fish originated.




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