Using Variance Structure to Quantify Responses to Perturbation in Fish Catches
We present a case study evaluation of gill-net catches of Walleye Sander vitreus to assess potential effects of large-scale changes in Oneida Lake, New York, including the disruption of trophic interactions by double-crested cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus and invasive dreissenid mussels. We used the empirical long-term gill-net time series and a negative binomial linear mixed model to partition the variability in catches into spatial and coherent temporal variance components, hypothesizing that variance partitioning can help quantify spatiotemporal variability and determine whether variance structure differs before and after large-scale perturbations. We found that the mean catch and the total variability of catches decreased following perturbation but that not all sampling locations responded in a consistent manner. There was also evidence of some spatial homogenization concurrent with a restructuring of the relative productivity of individual sites. Specifically, offshore sites generally became more productive following the estimated break point in the gill-net time series. These results provide support for the idea that variance structure is responsive to large-scale perturbations; therefore, variance components have potential utility as statistical indicators of response to a changing environment more broadly. The modeling approach described herein is flexible and would be transferable to other systems and metrics. For example, variance partitioning could be used to examine responses to alternative management regimes, to compare variability across physiographic regions, and to describe differences among climate zones. Understanding how individual variance components respond to perturbation may yield finer-scale insights into ecological shifts than focusing on patterns in the mean responses or total variability alone.