Knowledge of the spawning cycle and factors affecting fecundity of slimy sculpins (Cottus cognatus) are important in understanding the population dynamics of this species in large lake systems, like Lake Ontario. Fecundity and the spawning cycle of slimy sculpins were described from samples of slimy sculpins and their egg masses collected with bottom trawls during four annual surveys, April to October, 1988 to 1994. Incidence of gravid females and collections of their egg masses indicated that spawning by slimy sculpins likely occurred from late April to mid October in Lake Ontario. Protracted spawning by slimy sculpins in Lake Ontario is probably a function of the annual water temperature cycle at various depths. Mean length of gravid females was inversely related to density of slimy sculpins. Fecundity ranged from 55 to 1,157 eggs among fish 55 to 127 mm long, and for similar-sized fish, fecundity was inversely related to density of slimy sculpins. Fecundity was about 50% higher at Olcott, where population indices of slimy sculpins were low, compared with Nine Mile Point where indices were much higher. Somatic weight or total length were both good predictors of fecundity. Lipid content of slimy sculpins was lower in an area of high sculpin abundance than in an area of low sculpin abundance, suggesting that fecundity was a function of density-dependent food availability. In large aquatic ecosystems, samples from more than one area may be necessary to describe fecundity of a sedentary species like slimy sculpin, especially if fish densities vary considerably among geographic areas. Large geographic variations in fecundity may be an indicator of spatial imbalance of a species with its prey. Low fecundity may be a compensatory response to slimy sculpins to low food supplies, thereby limiting population growth.
Additional publication details
Intra-lake variation in maturity, fecundity, and spawning of slimy sculpins (Cottus cognatus) in southern Lake Ontario