Variables associated with year-class formation in upper St. Lawrence River northern pike Esox lucius were examined to explore population trends. A partial least-squares (PLS) regression model (PLS 1) was used to relate a year-class strength index (YCSI; 1974-1997) to explanatory variables associated with spawning and nursery areas (seasonal water level and temperature and their variability, number of ice days, and last day of ice presence). A second model (PLS 2) incorporated four additional ecological variables: potential predators (abundance of double-crested cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus and yellow perch Perca flavescens), female northern pike biomass (as a measure of stock-recruitment effects), and total phosphorus (productivity). Trends in adult northern pike catch revealed a decline (1981-2005), and year-class strength was positively related to catch per unit effort (CPUE; R2 = 0.58). The YCSI exceeded the 23-year mean in only 2 of the last 10 years. Cyclic patterns in the YCSI time series (along with strong year-classes every 4-6 years) were apparent, as was a dampening effect of amplitude beginning around 1990. The PLS 1 model explained over 50% of variation in both explanatory variables and the dependent variable, YCSI first-order moving-average residuals. Variables retained (N = 10; Wold's statistic ??? 0.8) included negative YCSI associations with high summer water levels, high variability in spring and fall water levels, and variability in fall water temperature. The YCSI exhibited positive associations with high spring, summer, and fall water temperature, variability in spring temperature, and high winter and spring water level. The PLS 2 model led to positive YCSI associations with phosphorus and yellow perch CPUE and a negative correlation with double-crested cormorant abundance. Environmental variables (water level and temperature) are hypothesized to regulate northern pike YCSI cycles, and dampening in YCSI magnitude may be related to a combination of factors, including wetland habitat changes, reduced nutrient loading, and increased predation by double-crested cormorants. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2007.
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Year-class formation of upper St. Lawrence River northern pike