We used analyses of burbot (Lota lota) and lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) diets taken during spring gill-net surveys in northern Lake Michigan in 2006-2008 to investigate the potential for competition and predator-prey interactions between these two species. We also compared our results to historical data from 1932. During 2006-2008, lake trout diet consisted mainly of alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus) and rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax), whereas burbot utilized a much wider prey base including round goby (Neogobius melanostomus), rainbow smelt, alewives, and sculpins. Using the Schoener's diet overlap index, we found a higher potential for interspecific competition in 1932 than in 2006-2008, though diet overlap was not significant in either time period. No evidence of cannibalism by lake trout or lake trout predation on burbot was found in either time period. In 2006-2008, however, lake trout composed 5.4% (by weight) of burbot diet. To determine whether this predation could be having an impact on lake trout rehabilitation efforts in northern Lake Michigan, we developed a bioenergetic-based consumption estimate for burbot on Boulder Reef (a representative reef within the Northern Refuge) and found that burbot alone can consume a considerable proportion of the yearling lake trout stocked annually, depending on burbot density. Overall, we conclude that predation, rather than competition, is the more important ecological interaction between burbot and lake trout, and burbot predation may be contributing to the failed lake trout rehabilitation efforts in Lake Michigan.
Additional publication details
Diet of lake trout and burbot in northern Lake Michigan during spring: Evidence of ecological interaction