Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Are changes in lower trophic levels limiting prey-fish biomass and production in Lake Michigan?

November 1, 2018

To improve understanding of how recent changes in lower trophic levels in Lake Michigan could be affecting prey-fish biomass and production, the Lake Michigan Committee (LMC) convened a Lower Trophic Level Task Group and provided several charges that are responded to in this report. First, we compiled a comprehensive summary of lower trophiclevel data in Lake Michigan, separating out nearshore versus offshore trends over time. Declining trends were prevalent in offshore time series for phosphorus, chlorophyll a, biomass of total crustacean zooplankton, biomass of herbivorous cladocerans, and density of Diporeia spp. In the nearshore, declining trends were evident only for biomass of cyclopoid copepods and density of Diporeia spp. Second, we hypothesized specific mechanisms by which changes in lower trophic levels could affect prey-fish biomass and production and described the degree of empirical support for each mechanism. The best-supported hypothesis was that declining invertebrate prey (especially Diporeia spp.) was responsible for declining growth of prey fish, especially over the last decade when competition for prey resources should otherwise have been lessened due to declining prey-fish densities. As a result, declining growth potentially limits the prey-fish biomass that could have been attained had growth been maintained at the levels that were achieved in the 1980s and earlier. Third, we prioritized several lower trophic-level indicators that fishery managers could use to better inform decision making. The top-ranked indicator was annual reporting of Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) condition. Fourth, we prioritized the key monitoring and research gaps that limit our current understanding of how lower trophic levels influence fish production. The highest-priority monitoring gap was coordinated sampling of the nearshore, which, if accomplished, would complement annual reporting on offshore sampling. The top-ranked knowledge gap was identifying bottlenecks that regulate fish recruitment, given that recent changes in zooplankton distribution and abundance could be suppressing survival of larval fish and, ultimately, the biomass and production of prey fish. We provided three specific recommendations for the LMC to consider as they seek to better incorporate lower trophiclevel changes into their management decision process: (1) implement a coordinated and standardized nearshore monitoring program, (2) encourage funding agencies to use our prioritized lists in their decision processes, and (3) foster the already improved dialogue between those researching lower trophic levels and those researching fisheries.

Publication Year 2018
Title Are changes in lower trophic levels limiting prey-fish biomass and production in Lake Michigan?
Authors David B. Bunnell, Hunter J. Carrick, Charles P. Madenjian, Edward S. Rutherford, Henry A. Vanderploeg, Richard P. Barbiero, Elizabeth Hinchey-Malloy, Steven A. Pothoven, Catherine M. Riseng, Randall M. Claramunt, Harvey A. Bootsma, Ashley Elgin, Mark Rowe, Sara Thomas, Benjamin A. Turschak, Sergiusz J. Czesny, Kevin Pangle, David M. Warner
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Organization Series
Series Title Miscellaneous Publication
Series Number 2018-01
Index ID 70199979
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Great Lakes Science Center