Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernuus) have been implicated in density declines of native species through egg predation and competition for food in some European waters where they were introduced. Density estimates for ruffe and principal native fishes in the St. Louis River estuary (western Lake Superior) were developed for 1989 to 1996 to measure changes in the fish community in response to an unintentional introduction of ruffe. During the study, ruffe density increased and the densities of several native species decreased. The reductions of native stocks to the natural population dynamics of the same species from Chequamegon Bay, Lake Superior (an area with very few ruffe) were developed, where there was a 24-year record of density. Using these data, short- and long-term variations in catch and correlations among species within years were compared, and species-specific distributions were developed of observed trends in abundance of native fishes in Chequamegon Bay indexed by the slopes of densities across years. From these distributions and our observed trend-line slopes from the St. Louis River, probabilities of measuring negative change at the magnitude observed in the St. Louis River were estimated. Compared with trends in Chequamegon Bay, there was a high probability of obtaining the negative slopes measured for most species, which suggests natural population dynamics could explain, the declines rather than interactions with ruffe. Variable recruitment, which was not related to ruffe density, and associated density-dependent changes in mortality likely were responsible for density declines of native species.
Additional publication details
Fish community changes in the St. Louis River estuary, Lake Superior, 1989-1996: Is it ruffe or population dynamics?