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Nearshore fish species richness and species–habitat associations in the St. Clair–Detroit River System

June 8, 2021

Shallow water riparian zones of large rivers provide important habitat for fishes, but anthropogenic influences have reduced the availability and quality of these habitats. In the St. Clair–Detroit River System, a Laurentian Great Lakes connecting channel, losses of riparian habitat contributed to impairment of fish populations and their habitats. We conducted a seine survey annually from 2013 to 2019 at ten sites in the St. Clair and Detroit rivers to assess riparian fish communities, and to identify habitat attributes associated with fish species richness and catches of common species. We captured a total of 38,451 fish representing 60 species, with emerald shiner Notropis atherinoides composing the largest portion of the catch. We used an information-theoretic approach to assess the associations between species richness and catches of 33 species with habitat variables (substrate, shoreline vegetation types, and aquatic macrophyte richness). Sand, cobble, and algal substrates and shoreline vegetation were important predictors of species richness based on a multimodel inference approach. However, habitat associations of individual species varied. This work identified manageable habitat variables associated with species richness, while identifying potential tradeoffs for individual species. Further, this work provides baselines for development and evaluation of fish community and shoreline habitat restoration goals.