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Phenology and species diversity in a Lake Huron ichthyoplankton community: Ecological implications of invasive species dominance

February 1, 2019

Ichthyoplankton communities are dynamic and vary spatiotemporally based on factors such as wind, water currents, and phenology. Nonetheless, ichthyoplankton are an indicator of spawning success in fish populations and examining their community diversity and composition can serve to provide information on ecosystem integrity. Although some ichthyoplankton species may be transient, understanding their distribution in space and time provides information on species composition, abundance, and habitat use during critical early life stages. We sampled the spring-summer ichthyoplankton community during 2008 and 2009 in northern Lake Huron to determine species succession, abundance, and species diversity along physical and environmental gradients. Seasonal succession of species was similar during both years, indicating well-defined patterns in spawning by local populations. Invasive alewife, rainbow smelt, and round goby were the dominant species during both years, with native stickleback species also abundant. Shannon Entropy (H’) increased with increasing water temperature until late summer when H’ declined. H’ decreased with increasing bottom depth and distance to tributary mouth indicating the important ecological role of these habitat features during early life stages. Although ichthyoplankton diversity was comparable to or higher than that reported for other areas of the Great Lakes, the prominence of invasive species in our study is reflective of the degraded state of the Lake Huron fish community, despite large reductions in invasive planktivorous fish since 2004. Continued monitoring of ichthyoplankton communities will be important for measuring the impacts of species invasions or other ecosystem stressors on fish community structure in the Great Lakes.