Species Introduction in a Tropical Lake

Science  02 Nov 1973:
Vol. 182, Issue 4111, pp. 449-455
DOI: 10.1126/science.182.4111.449


Probably in early 1967, a piscivore from South America, Cichla ocellaris, was introduced to Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal Zone. As this predator population spread through the lake, the initial effect was dramatic reductions in almost all secondary consumers. These species reductions produced, in turn, second- and third-order changes at other trophic levels of the ecosystem. The resulting changes in the lake community can be seen best by examining the general Gatun Lake food web. The decrease in numbers of the important planktivore Melaniris has resulted in changes within the zooplankton community, as illustrated by the cladoceran Ceriodaphnia. The tertiary-consumer populations, such as tarpon, black terns, kingfishers, and herons, formerly dependent on small fishes for food, appear less frequently in the Cichla areas of the lake. There has also been, possibly, a resurgence of the local mosquito populations (which are malaria vectors), caused by the reduction in the populations of insect-eating fishes. Even the primary producers may be affected by this introduction. Although at present the Gatun Lake ecosystem is undergoing rapid changes, we anticipate an eventual return to some form of equilibrium. However, it will be some time before we can evaluate the permanence or transience of the many changes produced in the trophic levels by the introduction of a single, top-level predator to this lake system.