Compensatory mechanisms are demographic processes that tend to increase population growth rates at lower population density. These processes will tend to reduce the effectiveness of actions that use controls on reproductive success to suppress sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), an economically important pest in the Great Lakes. Historical evidence for compensatory mechanisms in sea lamprey populations was reviewed, and revealed: (1) strong evidence for shifts in sex ratios as sea lamprey abundance was reduced in the early years of the control program; (2) weak and equivocal evidence for increased growth rates of sea lamprey cohorts re-colonizing streams following a lampricide treatment; and (3) suggestions of other compensatory processes, such as earlier ages at metamorphosis, but with little empirical evidence. Larval size distribution data for cohorts in the first and second years following a lampricide treatment (26 pairs of cohorts in 20 streams) was analyzed and did not indicate a consistent pattern of more rapid growth of the first colonizing cohort (only 11 of 33 cases). To test for compensation between spawning and age-1 in sea lamprey populations, data were analyzed for 49 stream-years for which spawning female abundance was known and age-1 abundance was estimated in the following year. A fit of these data to a Ricker stock-recruitment function showed evidence for compensation, measured as reduced survival to age 1 at higher abundance of spawning females. More obvious, however, was a large amount of density-independent variation in survival, which tends to mask evidence for compensatory survival. The results were applied to a simple model that simulates sea lamprey populations and their control in a hypothetical lake. Control strategies that targeted reproductive success performed far less well than comparable strategies that targeted larval populations, because density-independent recruitment variation leads to occasional strong year classes even when spawner abundance is reduced to low levels through alternative control. It is concluded that further study of recruitment variation in lamprey populations is critical to rationalizing alternative controls that target reproductive success, and that recruitment variation needs to be incorporated into models used to evaluate sea lamprey control options.
Additional publication details
Compensatory mechanisms in Great Lakes sea lamprey populations: implications for alternative control strategies