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Evaluating the effects of invasive brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) on kōura (freshwater crayfish, Paranephrops planifrons) in Lake Rotoiti

Brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) are opportunistic carnivores native to North America and were first detected in Te Weta Bay, Lake Rotoiti, in March 2016. A cordon was placed across the bay to try and contain catfish, but they had already established populations elsewhere. Spread of catfish in the lake raised concern for resident populations of freshwater crayfish or kōura (Paranephrops planifrons), which are of ecological and cultural significance to Māori. Given the limited knowledge of the potential impacts of catfish on native biota, this thesis aims to evaluate the effects of catfish on kōura in Lake Rotoiti. To do this, Bay of Plenty Regional Council (BOPRC) routine fyke netting data was used to explore species trends and relationships. A habitat survey was also conducted using whakaweku (bracken fern bundles) and fyke nets, to generate data on species’ habitat preferences and kōura metrics (e.g., sizes and sex ratios). In addition to fishing, kōura and catfish stomachs were dissected to determine diet. Potential food items of catfish were also collected for stable isotope analysis to estimate dietary overlap between catfish and kōura, and long-term resource acquisition. Routine BOPRC fyke netting results indicated that kōura catch per unit effort (CPUE) has declined in Lake Rotoiti, with mean catch rates dropping from 10.6 kōura net-1 night-1 in 2016 to 4.2 kōura net-1 night-1 in 2018. Over the same period, catfish CPUE has increased in the lake, with the highest catch rates in Te Weta Bay, where mean catch rates have increased from 1.1 catfish net-1 night-1 in 2016 to 63.7 catfish net-1 night-1 in 2018. Catfish catch rates were negatively associated with catch rates of kōura (r = −0.180). Mean catfish density also had a significant effect on kōura catch rates, with significantly more kōura being caught at sites without catfish. The negative association between catfish and kōura could be due to catfish eating or competing with kōura, or their differing habitat preferences. Catfish were positively associated with sites that are weedy or muddy and kōura were negatively associated with muddy habitats and were positively associated with rocky habitats. Whakaweku set at shallow depths <1 m in the lake littoral zone were ineffective at catching kōura during the habitat survey. Catfish diet consisted largely of chironomid larvae (Chironomidae), detritus, common bullies (Gobiomorphus cotidianus), and to a lesser extent kōura. Kōura were found in 12% of large catfish (>200 mm fork length; FL) stomachs analysed and contributed 5% volumetrically to large catfish diet. Unfortunately, the contribution of kōura to catfish diet could not be established using stable isotopes because isotopic signatures of kōura and bullies were too close to differentiate. Kōura diet consisted primarily of animal remains (common bullies and invertebrates) and detritus. Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen revealed that diets of kōura and catfish overlapped, with kōura sharing more of their diet with catfish than vice versa, likely reflecting catfish’s broad diet. This study suggests that catfish are responsible for the recent decline in kōura CPUE in Lake Rotoiti and that catfish are directly and indirectly affecting kōura through predation and competition for shared food resources.
Type of thesis
Francis, L. B. (2019). Evaluating the effects of invasive brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) on kōura (freshwater crayfish, Paranephrops planifrons) in Lake Rotoiti (Thesis, Master of Science (Research) (MSc(Research))). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12746
The University of Waikato
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