Nearshore habitat and land-use effects on trophic interactions and growth of largemouth bass and bluegill in Indiana's glacial lakes

2019-10-17T18:32:21Z (GMT) by Patricia A Nease
Glacial lakes, such as those in the Midwest region of the United States, are ecologically and economically important, and they provide a wide range of ecosystem services, such as habitat for wildlife and fishes, flood control and recreational boating. Glacial lakes often support locally important sport fisheries, such as largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides and bluegill Lepomis macrochirus, which are partially dependent on suitable habitat within lakes. Nearshore vegetation is often removed by lakeshore landowners for perceived aesthetics and boat access, or by area managers as a form of indirect fisheries management and invasive species control. The connection between nearshore vegetation and fish population health, though widely studied is somewhat unclear. In the two research chapters of this thesis we attempted to further understanding of the environmental factors that influence vegetation abundance and distribution, how vegetation abundance and distribution influences fish population abundance and size structure, and how young-of-year (YOY) largemouth bass utilize habitats within the nearshore environment. In the first research chapter, we used structural equation modeling (SEM) and data collected by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to quantify the complexity of relationships among catchment characteristics (e.g., catchment size), lake morphology, water quality, vegetation abundance and distribution, and fish population abundance and size structure. Across multiple lakes, lake productivity was more influential in explaining cross-lake variation of largemouth bass and bluegill proportional stock density (PSD) and largemouth bass catch per unit effort (CPUE) than vegetation. This may be a result of the feedback between phytoplankton production and rooted vegetation production. The models we constructed provide insights into the complexity of environmental variables that influence nearshore vegetation and fish populations. In the second research chapter we used stable isotopes (δ13 Carbon, δ15 Nitrogen, δ18 Oxygen and δ2 Hydrogen) to examine the consistency of habitat use and foraging of YOY largemouth bass within Indiana glacial lakes. We observed spatial variation in stable isotope ratios of YOY largemouth bass between habitat types and sites. Additionally, there were significant, positive relationships between δ13C of locally collected potential prey items and δ13C of YOY largemouth bass suggesting localized foraging patterns. Later in the summer, as young bass grew in size and likely switched to piscivory, we did not observe similar spatial variation in young bass stable isotopes or spatial relationships between prey and the young bass suggesting more homogeneous foraging patterns. Understanding the habitat use patterns of young bass may allow for more efficient and effective management of the nearshore environment. Overall, a greater consideration for the complexity of relationships between nearshore habitat and fish populations may facilitate more effective management.