Feeding, growth, and trophic position of redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) in watersheds of differing land cover in the lower Piedmont, USA

Brian S. Helms, Nate A. Bickford, Nathan W. Tubbs, Jack W. Feminella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


One pervasive outcome in the urbanization of an ecosystem is the proliferation and numerical dominance of select tolerant organisms that are often native to the system yet with reduced relative abundances in less-disturbed conditions. As a result of high variation in environmental conditions between urbanized and non-urbanized systems, it is possible that the functional role of a ubiquitous organism is context dependent. Such is the case for redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) in small streams in many parts of the Piedmont of the southeastern USA. To investigate this hypothesis, we evaluated the feeding, growth, and trophic position of redbreast sunfish in 3 streams of increasing levels of watershed urbanization (forested, suburban, urban) in the Lower Piedmont of western Georgia, USA. Through gut contents analysis, we found that sunfish consumed primarily Chironomidae (Diptera) larvae across all streams. However, fish in the suburban stream consumed more terrestrial prey than fish in the forest and urban streams, which corresponded to lower aquatic prey abundances in the suburban stream. Although there was no difference in mean fish age among streams, otolith analysis revealed that fish in the urban stream were larger at age than those in the forest stream. Last, stable isotope analysis revealed that fish in the urban stream occupied a lower trophic position than the other 2 streams. These results suggest that despite the fact that the primary prey resource was similar for sunfish in each stream, their potential functional role, as evidenced by size at age and trophic position, is context dependent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-117
Number of pages11
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018



  • Context-dependency
  • Gut contents
  • Otoliths
  • Redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus)
  • Stable isotopes
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies

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