The southern Lake Michigan basin in northwest Indiana possesses a variety of aquatic habitats including riverine, palustrine, and lacustrine systems. The watershed draining this area is a remnant of glacial Lake Chicago and supports fish communities that are typically low in species richness. Composition of the presettlement Lake Michigan fish community near the Indiana Dunes has been difficult to reconstruct. Existing data indicate that the number of native species in the Lake Michigan watershed, including nearshore Lake Michigan, has declined by 22% since the onset of European settlement. Few remnants of natural fish communities exist, and those occur principally in the ponds of Miller Woods, the Grand Calumet Lagoons, and the Little Calumet River. These communities have maintained a relatively diverse assemblage of fishes despite large-scale anthropogenic disturbances in the area, including channelization, massive river redirection, fragmentation, habitat alteration, exotic species invasions, and the introduction of toxic chemicals. Data that we collected from 1985 to 1996 suggested that the Grand Calumet River has the highest proportion of exotic fish species of any inland wetland in northwest Indiana. Along the Lake Michigan shoreline, another group of exotics (e.g., round goby, alewife, and sea lamprey) have affected the structure of native fish communities, thereby altering lake ecosystem function. Stocking programs contribute to the impairment of native communities. Nonindigenous species have restructured the function of Lake Michigan tributaries, causing disruptions in trophic dynamics, guild structure, and species diversity. Several fish communities have been reduced or eliminated by the alteration and destruction of spawning and nursery areas. Degradation of habitats has caused an increase in numbers and populations of species able to tolerate and flourish when confronted with hydrologic alteration. Fish communities found on public lands in northwest Indiana generally are of lower biological integrity, in terms of structure and function, than those on private lands and are not acting as refugia for native fish populations. Stocking of nonindigenous species should be evaluated to enable the restoration of native fish communities on public lands. Habitat quality will need to be improved and land-use modifications decreased or reversed in order to restore or slow the decline in native fish communities.
Additional publication details
Structure and function of fish communities in the southern Lake Michigan basin with emphasis on restoration of native fish communities