The identification of important spawning and nursery habitats for fish stocks can aid fisheries management, but is complicated by various factors, including annual variation in recruitment success. The alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) is an ecologically important species in Lake Michigan that utilizes a variety of habitats for spawning and early life growth. While productive, warm tributary mouths (connected to Lake Michigan) may contribute disproportionately more recruits (relative to their habitat volume) to the adult alewife population than cooler, less productive nearshore habitats, the extent of interannual variation in the relative contributions of recruits from these two habitat types remains unknown. We used an individual-based bioenergetics simulation model and input data on daily temperatures to estimate alewife recruitment to the adult population by these different habitat types. Simulations suggest that nearshore lake habitats typically produce the vast majority of young alewife recruits. However, tributary habitats may contribute the majority of alewife recruits during years of low recruitment. We suggest that high interannual variation in the relative importance of habitats for recruitment is a common phenomenon, which should be considered when developing habitat management plans for fish populations. ?? 2008 NRC.