Visual detection thresholds in two trophically distinct fishes are compromised in algal compared to sedimentary turbidity
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Visual detection thresholds in two trophically distinct fishes are compromised in algal compared to sedimentary turbidity
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    Conserv Physiol
    . 2018 Aug 17;6(1):coy044.
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    Increasing anthropogenic turbidity is among the most prevalent disturbances in freshwater ecosystems, through increases in sedimentary deposition as well as the rise of nutrient-induced algal blooms. Changes to the amount and color of light underwater as a result of elevated turbidity are likely to disrupt the visual ecology of fishes that rely on vision to survive and reproduce; however, our knowledge of the mechanisms underlying visual responses to turbidity is lacking. First, we aimed to determine the visual detection threshold, a measure of visual sensitivity, of two ecologically and economically important Lake Erie fishes, the planktivorous forage fish, emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides), and a primary predator, the piscivorous walleye (Sander vitreus), under sedimentary and algal turbidity. Secondly, we aimed to determine if these trophically distinct species are differentially impacted by increased turbidity. We used the innate optomotor response to determine the turbidity levels at which individual fish could no longer detect a difference between a stimulus and the background (i.e. visual detection threshold). Detection thresholds were significantly higher in sedimentary compared to algal turbidity for both emerald shiner (meansediment ± SE = 79.66 ± 5.51 NTU, meanalgal ± SE = 34.41 ± 3.19 NTU) and walleye (meansediment ± SE = 99.98 ± 5.31 NTU, meanalgal ± SE = 40.35 ± 2.44 NTU). Our results suggest that across trophic levels, the visual response of fishes will be compromised under algal compared to sedimentary turbidity. The influence of altered visual environments on the ability of fish to find food and detect predators could potentially be large, leading to population- and community-level changes within the Lake Erie ecosystem.
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