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Data from: The trophic ecology of a desert river fish assemblage: influence of season and hydrologic variability

Cite this dataset

Behn, Kathrine E.; Baxter, Colden V. (2019). Data from: The trophic ecology of a desert river fish assemblage: influence of season and hydrologic variability [Dataset]. Dryad.


Foodweb analyses can provide insight as to how species persist in naturally dynamic environments and how these communities may respond to anthropogenic alteration. In the remaining undammed rivers of the arid southwestern United States, it is thought that plasticity in feeding behavior allows native fishes to thrive in the context of natural fluctuations in temperature, sediment, and resource availability associated with extreme swings in season and hydrology. There have been few evaluations of this hypothesis, in part owing to the rarity of rivers that retain their natural environmental dynamics and complement of native species. We investigated the feeding ecology of the fish assemblage of one such river, the Little Colorado River, Arizona, focusing on four native species: bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus), flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis), speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), and endangered humpback chub (Gila cypha). Over two years, we sampled fish diets in July, September, January, March, and June, encompassing turbid and clear‐water conditions across seasons. We quantified food resource contributions to fish diets in fish‐centered food webs, comparing diversity of trophic linkages and linkage‐strength distribution across time. We used ordination analyses to investigate differences in diets among species and changes in diet composition across seasons and conducted seasonal comparisons of gut fullness. We observed a high diversity of dietary items (as absolute numbers and consumer–resource ratios) within a fish assemblage that was apparently resistant to extreme and recurrent environmental variability. Fish diet diversity was ~2× that of the nearby dammed Colorado River's tailwater, and over 50% of fish‐resource linkages were weak (<1% of species’ diet). Native fishes consumed a mix of terrestrial and aquatic resources. Notably, the water column‐feeding humpback chub consumed the largest percentage of terrestrially derived food items and appeared to capitalize on food resources made available by a summer flash flood, consuming twice as much during this flood than during other seasons (based on gut fullness, corrected by estimates of food quality). Other fishes exhibited similar dietary variation. Such opportunist/generalist strategies, coupled with diverse food resources, may be important to the persistence of these and other native fishes in dynamic environments.

Usage notes


Coconino County
Little Colorado River
Colorado Plateau
Navajo Nation
Colorado River
Grand Canyon National Park