Recruitment to the adult population of white bass Morone chrysops in Lake Erie sharply declined during the early 1980s. To explain this phenomenon, we formulated the following four hypotheses: (1) the biological characteristics of adult spawners changed during the early 1980s, so that the ability to produce eggs decreased; (2) the decrease in phosphorus loadings to Lake Erie during the 1970s resulted in a lower abundance of crustacean zooplankton and thus in reduced survival of age-0 white bass; (3) the increase in the population of adult walleyes Stizostedion vitreum in Lake Erie during the 1970s and 1980s led to reduced survival of age-0 white bass; and (4) establishment of the white perch Morone americana population in Lake Erie during the early 1980s led to reduced survival of the early life stages of white bass. The growth, maturity, and fecundity of adults during the period 1981-1997 were compared with the same characteristics found by earlier studies. The mean length, weight, and condition factors that we calculated were higher than those reported for Lake Erie in 1927-1929 for all age groups examined, and white bass in Lake Erie matured at an earlier age during 1981-1997 than during 1927-1929. Fecundity estimates ranged from 128,897 to 1,049,207 eggs/female and were similar to estimates from other populations. Therefore, the first hypothesis was rejected. With respect to the second hypothesis, zooplankton surveys conducted during 1970 and 1983-1987 indicated that the abundance of crustacean zooplankton in Lake Erie did not change between the two time periods. However, these results were not conclusive because only a single-year survey was conducted before 1980. Based on walleye diet studies and estimates of walleye population size, walleye predation pressure on age-0 white bass in Lake Erie during 1986-1988 was just slightly higher than that during 1979-1981. Thus, such pressure can explain only a minor portion of the reduction in white bass recruitment. To test the fourth hypothesis, intervention analysis was applied to the long-term abundance series for white bass. The abundance of age-0 white bass in Lake Erie between 1982 and 1997 was significantly lower than that between 1969 and 1981. The catch per unit effort of adult white bass in commercial trap nets between 1987 and 1997 was significantly lower than it was before 1987. Moreover, the period of reduced recruitment for white bass in Oneida Lake, New York, which extends from 1955 to the present, coincides with occupation of the lake by white perch. Thus, of the four hypotheses entertained, the most plausible explanation for the reduction in white bass recruitment in Lake Erie is that white perch reduced the survival of white bass during its early life history.
Additional publication details
Reduction in recruitment of white bass in Lake Erie after invasion of white perch